What Will Your Former Employer Really Say About You?

So you’ve completed the first round of interviews – and perhaps the second – with flying colors towards that cherished new job. At this point, a prospective employer will begin to check the quality of your references and recommendations from previous employers, and these recommendations can make or break your prospects.

Have you done your due diligence in ensuring that they will be an asset, not an albatross, to your job application?

Allison & Taylor Inc., a professional reference-checking firm, reports that approximately 50% of the references they check receive an assessment of ‘mediocre’ to ‘poor’.  This surprising statistic shows that it’s very possible that the great job you lost out on at the last moment had nothing to do with your lack of skills or being overqualified. It could have had more to do with what one of your references or past employers said about you. If you are concerned that someone, somewhere, might be giving you a less-than-stellar review, there’s a one-in-two chance that you’re right. That’s a frightening percentage when your livelihood is at stake

It’s in your best interest, therefore, to take control of your career momentum by finding out precisely what each of your potential references will say about you; then you can pass on your best references with greater confidence. Reference checking also provides the opportunity to prevent your negative references from offering up negative commentary about you. Here are ten winning ways to utilize your references:

  1. Make a list of all your prospective references. Begin with the first job that is relevant in management of your career today; select those who have carefully observed your job performance. Your references need to have seen you in action, hopefully performing well in adverse conditions. But beware: whether you list them or not, many (if not all) of your past employers will be contacted. Be sure to gather all important contact data about every potential reference, including: name, title, company, address, telephone/fax number, and e-mail address. (You may be asked to provide this data by a prospective employer.)  Other individuals that may make useful references include colleagues, subordinates, suppliers and clients
  2. Narrow the list. After you have made your list of references, select those that you feel will be most willing to give you an excellent report. A typical list of references should include five to10 names, depending on the amount of experience a candidate has accumulated.
  3. Contact each reference personally. Send each reference a note (visiting them personally, if possible, is even better) stating that you are seeking new employment and that you would like to use them as a reference. Be sure to share with them your current resume and let them know of the position you are applying for, as well as the type of qualities the company is likely seeking. Give them the impression that their reference is critical to your obtaining the job.
  4. Confirm your personal information. Refresh your reference’s memory regarding the position you held while working with them. Also, it is a good idea to check with the HR department and verify that all information in your personnel file is correct.
  5. Conduct a personal exit interview with your references. Review your past responsibilities and remind them of tangible successes you achieved with them/the company. Review with each reference what they will say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Try to learn what your references are going to say about you. Do not take any criticism personally, or become defensive. If they feel you are receptive to their comments regarding self-improvement, it may lead them to say you are open-minded and that you strive to grow professionally. To sum up, one of the key skills in the workplace is effective communication. Your reference will feel comfortable stating you are a good communicator if you have filled them in on the “who, what, why, when and where” and have appeared receptive to their comments.
  6. Be prepared ahead of time. It pays to take the time early in your job search to identify and prepare your references. The last thing you want is to lose out on a good position because you did not have your references organized, validated and prioritized. You can even use your references as effective networking tools in asking them to keep your name out in front of those with whom they associate. Again, tell your references what you have been doing since the last time you worked with them. Not only is this the courteous thing to do, it also keeps them updated on your career. Any reference that is well informed about the progression of your career will be a much better reference. Last, but not least, ask them if they know of any current job openings in your field.
  7. Pay attention to detail. Always check to be sure of the correct area code and telephone number as well as company name when giving out references. With today’s mergers and technology changes, things can change daily. Should you list an incorrect telephone number, or if a reference has taken a position elsewhere, it will appear as though you are out of touch with your references.
  8. Communicate with your references at “crunch time.” When a specific offer is on the horizon let your references know the company involved and that you are using them as a reference. They will feel more comfortable giving out information about you or to return a prospective employer’s call in a more timely fashion if you have communicated with them ahead of time.
  9. Follow-up with your references. When you get your new position, make sure you call each reference and thank them for the role they played. Going forward, keep them posted about your career. They will appreciate your staying in touch and will be more likely to serve as a reference once again at a later date.
  10. Check your references professionally. Don’t leave the impact of your references to chance. If you are not 100% convinced that your references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to prospective employers, have them checked out. A professional employment verification and reference-checking firm can either put your mind at ease, or supply you with the critical information and evidence that has been blocking your job searching efforts.

Having your references checked before you pass them along to a potential employer is a positive, proactive step to assist in your career advancement.  Don’t miss the opportunity to put your best foot forward in the search for a new position!

About Charlotte Weeks - Executive Career Coach / Executive Resume Writer / Outplacement Consultant

Prior to founding Weeks Career Services, Inc. Charlotte Weeks worked in human resources at a national association, where she experienced the hiring process from the other side. She's also the past president of The National Resume Writers' Association (The NRWA). Charlotte specializes in providing C-level executives (CEO, CFO, CMO, etc.), association executives, executive directors and senior-level professionals (director, VP, SVP, etc.) with comprehensive career coaching services and high-ROI resumes. She is author of "I Want a Job in an Association -- Now What?? A Guide to Getting a Job in a Professional Association, Membership Organization, or Society" and featured author of "101 Great Ways to Enhance Your Career." Additional book contributions include "The Twitter Job Search Guide," "Resumes That Pop!," and "Step-by-Step Cover Letters." As an internationally-recognized expert, Charlotte provides programs and documents tailored to each individual’s needs. To ensure that each person is given the highest quality of attention and service, Charlotte works with a limited number of new clients each month.
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