Resumes Win Interviews, But References Win Job Offers


By Martin Yate

Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds are more inquiring than those belonging to interviewers. As many candidates have found out the hard way, the better the job and the higher the pay, the tougher the screening process. So if you're being considered for a top job, it's likely that your references will be checked thoroughly.

At this stage of the job-search process, you must be certain that your references will seal the deal, not blow it away. But if you're like most people, you probably haven't given your references much thought. Instead, you've focused on writing your resume, developing interview skills, networking and deciding what to wear to interviews. In the days just before you receive an offer, though, the focus shifts, and your biggest concern should be the quality of your references. Surprisingly, few candidates realize that a primary reason they don't earn a job offer is because their references failed them. Instead, they assume a better candidate beat them out of the job, or that they performed poorly at some stage of the interview process. But about half of all checked references fall into the mediocre to poor category, say human resources professionals.

Some of the comments HR specialists and line managers say they've heard recently when checking references include:

References won't call to warn you that they won't be complimentary. With company policies changing, employee turnover running high in many HR departments and new laws being enforced concerning references and company liability, its safe to say that the reference situation is changing quickly.

Take Control


One way to gain greater control of your job search is to find out exactly what potential references will say about you. If the odds hold true, your references will range from stellar to damaging. When you know what former bosses and colleagues will say about you, you can pass on the names of only your best references with greater confidence. You'll also have the opportunity to stop references from saying things that aren't true or may derail your search efforts.

Start by making a list of your prospective references. Begin with the first job that's relevant to the position you're seeking. Then select references that have carefully observed your performance. They need to have seen you in action, hopefully performing well in adverse conditions. For each potential reference, gather the following data:

  1. Name
  2. Title
  3. Company
  4. Address
  5. Telephone Number
  6. Fax Number, e-mail Address

To help you decide who to approach about serving as a reference, don't forget the following contacts:

After completing your list of references, select those whom you think will be most willing to provide an excellent report. Be sure you have the correct telephone number, area code and company name. With mergers rampant and technology changing, you'll look out of touch if the reference information you give to interviewers is incorrect. Next, meet with each reference personally. Be sure to bring a copy of your current resume so they can see how you're marketing yourself to prospective employers. Let them know about the types of positions you're applying for and the qualities those companies are seeking. Also, make it clear that their reference is critical to you getting the job.

Realize that company checkers typically will ask your references to rate your skills in the following areas:

  1. Oral communication
  2. Short-term planning
  3. Written communication
  4. Long-term planning
  5. Decision making
  6. Productivity
  7. Interpersonal skills
  8. Managerial skills
  9. Crisis management
  10. Employee relations
  11. Financial skills
  12. Personal integrity
  13. Leadership
  14. Technical skills
  15. Overall performance

They'll also ask references whether they would enthusiastically recommend you, their thoughts on the circumstances of your separation from your previous jobs, and for any additional comments.

Help Others Help You


With an in-depth reference check, prospective employers will have lots of information with which to break a tie between competing candidates. To help your cause, refresh the memories of your references regarding the position you held. Review your past responsibilities and remind them of the solid results you achieved for the company. Then discuss what they'll say when asked about your strengths and weaknesses.

Don't take personally comments your references say when trying to describe your past performance. Instead, help them see your point of view. During your conversation, update them on what you're doing, how you've added experience and turned old weaknesses into new strengths. If they believe that you're aware of your weaknesses, it may prompt them to tell interviewers that you're open-minded and striving to grow professionally.

When a specific offer is on the horizon, let your references know the company's name, how you would fit in the open position and that you'll be using them as a reference. With this in mind, they'll feel more comfortable sharing information about you.

Once you land a new position, be sure to call your references and let them know the details. And don't forget to offer your services if they ever need a knowledgeable reference.

Martin Yate is the New York-based author of the best selling "Knock Em Dead" book series.


From material shared by Tanya Owens, Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation Program, Syracuse University.

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