Making the most of references

16 Jun 2010

Employers are increasingly checking out references at the final stage of the interview process, particularly in careers where people are required to possess strong interpersonal skills. Jobseekers can enhance their chances of being hired by thinking strategically about potential referees.

According to John Deely, occupational psychologist and founder of Pinpoint, the fact that the reference situation crops up at the end of an interview means the candidate has already overcome a lot of hurdles. “If you’ve gone through the interview stages and the interviewer then asks for references, it’s a sign they are going to pursue you. A good reference acts as a reinforcement of their decision to hire you.”

Prospective employers generally look for two references, says Deely. “If one is bad and one is good, it shouldn’t affect your prospects,” he says. “If the bad one comes from your longest employer, however, it is going to mitigate your performance when people come to hire you.”

Deely says if someone believes they are going to get a bad reference, they have to think about whether they really want to use this particular referee. “Before you get to interview stage, analyse why you are getting a bad reference — whether it’s the environment or whether you are very poor in that particular role — and consider if you are suited to this role in the future.”

Miriam Ahern, managing partner at Align Management Solutions, believes job seekers should be up front and ask past employers in advance about what they are going to say about them. “No matter what terms you left your last position on, forewarned is forearmed,” she explains.

Rather than solely relying on past employers, Ahern also advises people to build up a good network of contacts, so they have people to call upon in a professional capacity. “If you received a bad reference from your most recent employer, you could say this was based on just one personal relationship. And, instead, you could ask for a personal recommendation from a customer or client. You need to redress the balance in your favour,” she says. 

In terms of preparation, James Griffin of Solomon Search Partners International says it’s important not to waste your referees’ time, as you want to control the number of people ringing them. Therefore, it is advisable to offer references on request rather than supplying the contact details of referees on a CV.

It is important also to determine the type of reference a prospective employer wants and to try to align the referee with the type of role you are going for.

Griffin advises people to contact referees in advance, to explain the role they are applying for and ask what time would be suitable for them to take a call. “You are reminding the person about you, plus you are prompting them of the skills that you have. It is also showing courtesy and they’ll appreciate that.”

Jobseekers beware

References can be a minefield for employers and employees alike. Miriam Ahern advises jobseekers to:

•        Establish who they know in their professional network who can confirm qualities, skills and qualifications

•        Try to match referees to the particular job they are applying for

•        Keep professional relationships with referees up to date. Inform them of your career progress etc

•        Always let referees know in advance if a prospective employer is going to contact them

•        Be courteous and thank referees after they have given a reference.

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