Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 6, no. 2
Las Vegas is one of the top tourist destinations of the world. Best known for The Strip, a resort area 4.2 miles or 6.8 kms long, Vegas attracts visitors trying their luck in its casinos. If you go to a casino, you expect to take risks.
Risk is exactly what employers want to reduce when they are hiring a new employee. So how do they do this? One way is by seeking references before they make their final decision.
As a job seeker, it’s important not to neglect this part of your search.
It’s easy to let the ball drop, particularly if you’re nearing the end of a long and demanding period. Maybe you’ve already had several interviews. The end is in sight. All the indications are that at last you have found the right position. It’s essential that you don’t spoil your efforts by relaxing too soon.
In this article we will cover three ways to avoid job reference mistakes.
1. What you need to know about why employers seek references
2. How to choose the right people to provide your references
3. How to manage the process
Of course, references are not the only tool that employers use.
Depending on the job, screening may include credit checks, background checks, and health checks. But in this article, we will focus on traditional references.
So why do employers seek references?
So let’s begin with the purpose of references. Understanding this is the foundation for choosing the right people and the best options for your particular situation.
For job seekers the reference process can be confusing.
For several reasons. Job references can look very different from one company to another. Different employers have different practices. Some employers may gather minimal information, such as previous employment dates. On the other hand, some employers may not take up references at all.
Even for those employers who do use references, there are differences. Sometimes a reference is requested by a formal written process. Sometimes employers prefer a personal phone call. Increasingly, references requests are managed online and the request is delivered by email.
So what does all this mean for you as a job seeker?
We will explore this is more detail below, but first the key is to understand what the employer hopes to gain by requesting references. To do this you need to step into the employer’s shoes.
From the company perspective, there is always a risk of a bad hiring decision.
A costly selection mistake. In general, employers wait until later on in the hiring process to take up references. By now the stakes are higher. Unsuitable candidates have already been excluded.
As a job seeker, you’re one of a small number of people still being considered. You may be the preferred candidate. It’s decision time. The hiring process is almost complete.
So far everything looks good. On paper, you’re qualified.
By now, you’ve probably performed well in interview and the other steps of the selection process. But still the employer is not quite ready to make the final decision. What if there’s some unknown information that will negatively affect performance? What if …?
There is always an element of doubt when the hire is external.
Although you may feel like the employer has all the information needed to make a decision, there may still be some questions. Even a comprehensive selection process does not come with a guarantee. There is risk associated with limited knowledge. Requesting references is one way of mitigating this risk.
Once you understand this, your role is much clearer.
How employers manage the process may vary, but if you remember this overall purpose, it will be easier to make the right choices. The actions you take should be geared towards one goal. To provide your prospective employer with whatever information you can to reassure them that they are making the right decision by hiring you.
As a job-seeker, it may seem that the reference process is out of your hands.
After all, it is the employer who asks for references. But the outcomes are important for you also. You need to be proactive. This begins with choosing the right people to provide your references. Let’s go there next.
Whom should I ask? How do I choose the right people?
This is a question that many job seekers have. It’s likely that you will be asked for the contact information of your immediate manager or supervisor. This makes sense from the employer’s point of view. This is the person who should know most about your work performance. But this is not always the case. So what do you need to think about?
The best choices will depend on your unique situation.
Think about your relationships at work. Include both formal and informal relationships. In today’s flatter organizations, professionals often report to more than one “boss.”
For example, the relationship you have with your manager is not as good as it might be. Dissatisfaction with a manager is after all is one of the most frequent reasons that employees want to quit their jobs. In this case, your immediate boss is not your first choice.
Maybe you have limited contact with your boss because you are part of a virtual team. Nowadays many professionals spend a lot of time working out of the office, and your formal manager may not be the person with the most in-depth knowledge of the ways in which you contribute through your work.
You’re in the best position to identify the most appropriate people.
Choose someone who not only knows your work well, but someone who has a high regard for you as a person. If you already have a good relationship, the process will be much easier.
But don’t forget about how your choices will be perceived. If don’t choose your immediate manager, it’s important to communicate clearly about that. The last thing you want to do is to convey the impression that you are hiding something. Remember the employer is requesting references as way of reducing their risk. They are seeking information to validate their hiring decisions.
It’s not unusual for employers to ask for several references.
After all, agreement among different sources increases confidence that the information they have is reliable. Make a list of potential sources. Don’t forget the details. For instance, check that the contact information you have is up to date.
Asking the right people is not enough. You need to proactively manage the process. Let’s discuss that next.
You’ve identified the right people. But that’s not enough.
You need to make specific requests. Even if you believe that the people you nominate to provide references will be happy to help, you still need to ask their permission each time that you are applying for a job. Why?
Because you want to be clear that you still have their agreement. You don’t want them to feel overwhelmed because they are being inundated with requests. Even if they offer blanket permission, you still need to keep them informed. The more informed they are, the better they are able to provided a targeted reference.
But what if it feels awkward to ask more than once?
It may do. Maybe you take a “wait and see” approach, thinking that, on this occasion,your prospective employer won’t follow up on references. But this is not a time to leave the outcomes to chance. You want to do everything you can to steer the process towards the most favorable outcomes possible.
This means that it is your responsibility to be sure that the people you have asked to provide references are as informed as possible. How should you do this? Well it depends on your particular situation.
The best approach is to often to begin earlier than you think should.
As appropriate, involve them in your search. After all, you have chosen people who support your career. They are willing to help, but give them all the information they need to do that.
There are several ways to do this. It often helps if they have a copy of your current resume. Sometimes you will request a reference from someone from a previous position. They may not know what how your career had developed in the meantime. It is up to you to fill any gaps. And don’t forget to follow up and keep in touch.
As an university faculty member, I was frequently asked to provide references for former students. If the request arrived out of the blue, I was only able to provide the basic information from the student records. It’s not possible to provide a strong reference without current and contextual information.
Do what you can to make the communication as smooth as possible.
Say, you think a former manager would provide you with great references, but you know from experience that they struggle to respond to requests for written information in a timely manner. Don’t just hope for the best. If timeliness is a big factor, then you may need to ask a substitute.
Even if you’ve experienced a long drawn out selection process, employers may be in a hurry at this point.
They want fast responses to their requests. They may ask for both personal and business contact information to speed things up. Of course, you need to secure permission to share personal information. But, that’s not enough. It’s also essential to prepare the people involved so that the prioritize the call or email.
Find out as much as possible from your prospective employer about the contacts methods they use.
Be sure to pass this information on to the people providing your references. Increased use of online methods of gathering information mean that your reference request may not be seen. Don’t let a spam filter get in the way of your next job.
Information in advance is particularly important if you nominate your manager as a source of reference. Surprise is not a good state from which to think clearly and provide a good reference. Don’t allow your manager to find out that you are looking for a new position via a phone call from another company asking about you.
So far we’ve covered:
– why employers seek references
– how to choose the right people
– how to manage the process
Your references are too important to leave the process to chance.
Rather it’s a time for you to take charge. As a job seeker, your role is do what you can to assuage any concerns your prospective employer may still have.
You know you can do the job. By this stage you may feel that the employer has more than enough information to make a hiring decision. But keep in mind that employers are not so much looking for more information, as are seeking to validate information they already have.
Don’t let the hard work of your search and an often demanding selection process go to waste by neglecting references. Instead do what you can to facilitate the process of helping your prospective confirm that selecting you is the right choice.
|Jennifer Bradley helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and writes about career development and career transition. If you’re new to the Career & Work Life Matters blog, and would like to discover more about your personal career management skills, request a Free copy of the Career Scorecard.|