So you have completed final interviews and have been asked to provide references. The signs are good. To be asked for references means you are on a very short, short list and may be about to receive a job offer. A few days pass and you are called. Regretfully the recruiter lets you know that the other candidate was a better match and you have not got the job this time. What happened? Were you really not that good a fit or did you fall over with less than glowing references?
Of course it could just be that the other person was better, but you can hugely improve your chances with a few simple steps.
- Pick your references carefully, not because you think they look good on paper. They have to have something valuable to say, which means they have to know you well and be able to speak with authority on how effective you were/are at your job. Which means not your friends, but your bosses.
- Keep in touch with your references and treat them with respect over the years - don’t expect them to act for you if you couldn’t be bothered to keep in touch.
- Better still, treat them as career mentors and stay in touch even when you don’t need them.
It is essential to keep in touch with potential referees over the years. If you haven’t been keeping in touch so far, start now. Think about sending an occasional note about what you’re up to, or forward some useful or interesting new information that may be of use to them. If your prospective referees feel they have a connection with you they are less likely to feel they are being used. Anyone who is irritated by being picked up and put down at critical points in your career is not likely to sound very enthusiastic about you when asked.
Secondly, always call your prospective references and ask them if they would be your reference for a particular opportunity. It sounds blindingly obvious, but you would be amazed by the number of quite senior people who don’t address this simple courtesy. As you talk to them you will get a feeling for how enthusiastic or not they are about this task. If you get any negative vibes whatsoever, pass them over for another relevant referee. How they talk to you is important - after all when they talk to a recruiter it isn’t always what they say, but how they say it, that counts.
Thirdly, when the referee has agreed to act for you be sure to brief them fully. Call them and outline what it is that the interviewer seemed most keen to focus on - business development, team building, product launches, strategy development or whatever. You will already know that from the interview process. Whatever the likely focus points may be, provide them to you referee then offer some examples from your past work that exemplify these particular desired skills or attributes. Whilst you can’t put words in their mouth, you can help jog their memory and focus them on the best bits of your career history.
“They grilled me a bit on new product launches, so I focused on the XYZ launch that we handled in NSW last year. I managed to add 15% to new business sales with that one, so it was a good example for me to use. You may remember that we had that setback when the product data was late to the printers so the sales team went in without literature but we still beat target by using that tablet presentation I got IT to work up.”
Finally, remember to call and thank them for providing a reference, every time. Giving a reference is not easy and it takes quite a bit of time and thought, so deserves thanks. Also, you never know when you may need them again. Offer to help them in any way you can in the future too.
If you have any comments or stories to tell about reference checking, we'd love to hear from you.