How to Get Job References that Get You Jobs

One of the scariest things about hitting the job-hunting trail is that you'll have to find job references-names and phone numbers of people who will speak well of you to potential employers.

On the surface, nothing seems simpler. You've been working in one place for 7 years and another for 10 before that, and your bosses have always liked you. But unless you've been laid off and are on the street with your employer's blessing, you can't ask your current boss. You can ask your boss from your last company, but who wants a seven-year-old reference?

It gets still more complicated when you're leaving under a cloud and don't want your next employer speaking to your current one. Fortunately, in response to wrongful hiring suits and the like ("When I called to ask you for a reference, you didn't tell me he was a major office supply thief, and now he's taken off with a hundred boxes of Post-It notes"), many companies have adopted the policy of not giving official references. New employers calling the HR department are told, "Yes, he worked here. Yes, I can confirm his dates of employment and ending salary. No, I can't tell you about his performance. No, I can't tell you about his Post-It-using habits."

What You Need
Employers all know they can't count on official channels for references, so they typically ask you for a few good names. If you don't provide some, they'll find their own. They'll call people they know who worked-or still work-for your company. I can't count the number of calls I've gotten asking my opinion of people who hadn't used my name as a reference. To my question, "Why not call the references she gave you?" they'd say, "We wanted to know what someone else would say." They may do that anyway, but by offering references you cut down the time they have to do mischief.

The best references are people who have left your organization. These are the ones who say at their going-away parties, "Be sure to call me if I can ever do anything for you." They'll be sympathetic because they'll understand why you want to leave. It's good to stay in touch with them while you're job hunting, anyway. I once got a call from someone whose name I'd given as a reference. "If you're in the market," he said, "there may be a place for you here."

No one expects you to give your present boss's name as a reference. In fact, doing that might raise unpleasant questions. Try rounding up peers who can attest that you're a team player, subordinates who can say what a great boss you are and customers or vendors who can say what a pleasure you are to work with. If you're having several interviews, you want twice-several references so you can spread them out.

You can take your time about providing names. Even if you have to fill out an application form at the interview that has space for them, you can say, "I'll send you some names later." That'll give you an excuse to communicate after the interview and remind the potential employer that you're there.

It's really important that you check with your references before using their names. There are two parts to that. First, you ask generally if you can use them as references. Try to gauge the enthusiasm of their response. Second, whenever you give anyone their name and you think it'll be used, shoot them an e-mail to let them know.

What You Don't Need
You can't trust everyone. Your references may turn a call about you into an opportunity to seize the job you're trying to get, with a friendly, "If Joe doesn't want the job, I'd be interested." You can only imagine what was said, or implied, about Joe. Still, you don't need to check on your people by having your friends call them and ask for references. You certainly don't need to hire one of the services that does it for money. Ethics aside, it'll annoy your target, and that can ruin your whole day.

You don't need letters of reference. That antiquated custom lost its cachet when everyone got telephones; and, again, it makes you high-maintenance. There are only two circumstances where a letter is desirable. First, if the letter is from Bill Gates or Condoleezza Rice. Second, if you're leaving the company and think your manager will undermine you. That way, if he does, he'll be contradicting his own written words.

You don't need to negotiate references when you're laid off. If you don't trust your former management, you're probably right. Try to get an agreement that no one will speak ill of you, and stockpile lots of other names.

The biggest thing you don't need: A statement on your resume saying that references are available on request. Of course they are. Take that sentence off. Now you have room to describe your experience playing twin pianos with Condi or beating Bill at bridge.

Article provided by Homesteader

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