3 tips on references

When I call your references, what will they say about you? Will they be expecting my call? Do they know what role you are pursuing?

As a candidate heading into the final stages of a job competition you will be expected at some point to provide references. Generally, our clients (potential employers) desire references from the candidate’s most recent employment(s) and usually from an immediate supervisor, a peer, and depending on the role other specific references may be requested.

I recall the conversation with a reference of an executive candidate who was one of three finalists being assessed for a Chief Operating Officer role, it went like this,

Me: Hello Ms. X I am calling you for a Reference for Mr. Y, is this a good time?

Ms. X: Excuse me, Mr. Y? What company did he say he had worked for me at?

By the way, we record and share all details of the candidate’s reference exchange with clients, Mr. Y was not successful in that particular competition.

When engaged in an employment competition do not wait to be asked for your references. Plan and prepare your references. I recommend the following 3 simple tips on providing references:

  1. Select Strong References

Sounds obvious, but the wrong reference(s) can sink a candidate. Unless specific references are requested, provide up to 3 employment related references as current as possible who can accurately and with conviction speak to your experience, skills, and attributes relevant to the level and scope of work / position which you are being considered. Furthermore, you want to ensure your reference will effectively articulate their knowledge of your experience, skills, and attributes. A reference that simply answers questions with a single word or simple statement, does not help your position in the competition. When providing references be selective, and submit their full name, an e-mail, a phone number, and a brief context of your working / reporting relationship.

  1. Secure Approval from your References

Contact references and confirm their continued willingness to be a reference. Policies may have changed at your former place of employment and your prior direct supervisor may not be able to provide a reference. Ensure your reference is not deceased! Don’t laugh, I once called upon a candidate’s reference only to learn from his wife he had passed a month prior. Remember we share this information with the client who is considering you among other candidates. Furthermore, it is important to confirm the availability of your references over the duration which they will likely be called. It can be potentially disastrous if your primary reference is away on vacation and cannot be contacted.

  1. Education your References

Educate references on the position being applied for and now under consideration. Educate references on the title of the position, the general scope of the role, and why you are motivated for the opportunity. By educating references there is a better probability they will reflect on specific situations and circumstances during your employment and share them during the reference call. A reference that can draw upon specific examples will definitely strengthen your position in the selection process.

References can make the difference between receiving an offer of employment or not. Invest the time to plan and prepare references. All the best!

By, Ken Glover, RPR
Ken is Managing Partner with HumanEdge Global Executive Search based in Edmonton, Alberta.