by Terra L. Dourlain,
President of Faith, Winter & Grace, Inc.
Inquiring minds want to know, and
no minds are more inquiring than those about to hire you. Rest
assured, you will be investigated. As a rule of thumb, the better
the job, the higher the pay, - the tougher the screening process.
If you are up for a good job at a visible company your references
will be checked in great detail. Be aware that your list of
references is simply the beginning of the investigation a
prospective employer will conduct.
When a prospective employer has completed the
first round of interviews and you are in the group of top
candidates, the next logical step is to check your references and
interview those individuals to whom you reported. Are you certain
your these individuals will seal the deal or will they blow it
away? If you are like most people you probably haven't given your
references much thought. Instead you have focused on your resume,
interview skills, networking and what to wear to the interview.
Now the focus shifts. Your biggest concern should be the quality
of your references and recommendations from past employers,
because they can make or break your chances.
About half of all references that get checked,
according to Terra Dourlain, Managing Director of Allison & Taylor
Reference Checking Inc., range from mediocre to poor. So it is
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. So if you are
concerned that someone, somewhere, might be giving you a bum rap,
there is a one in two chance that you are right. That's a
frightening scenario when your livelihood is at stake.
Here is just a sampling of the comments HR
people and line managers hear when they check references: "Our
company policy prohibits us saying anything. All we are able to do
is verify dates of employment and title." Then they have gone on
to say things like, "Check his references very, very carefully."
Other common conversations include: "Are you certain he gave my
name as a reference?"; "Although we are currently in
litigation..."; "We miss him very much."; "After we settle our
lawsuit"; "Let me see what the paperwork says I am able to give
out regarding ______."; or they seem very surprised and make other
innuendoes such as: "Is he still in this field?"
References and past employers won't call and
warn you that they are not going to be complimentary. With company
policies changing (not that many choose to follow them anyway),
new employees in HR Departments, new laws concerning references,
company liability when they give references, the reference
situation is ever changing and is therefore very volatile. So, you
are well advised to take more control of your career momentum by
finding out just what every potential reference will say about
you. If the odds hold, as they will, those references will range
from stellar all the way on down; yet when you know who is going
to say what about you, you can pass on your best references with
greater confidence. Plus you will have the opportunity to stop
references saying things that are not true. Here are ten winning
ways to utilize your references:
I. Make a
Start by making a list of all of your prospective references.
Begin with the first job that is relevant in management of your
career today. You need to 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, your past employers will be
contacted. Be sure to gather all important contact data about
every potential reference including: Name; Title; Company;
Address; Telephone Number; Fax Number; e-mail Address. Other
individuals that may prove to be useful as references include:
Colleagues; Subordinates; Suppliers & Clients; Volunteer
Committees; Pro Bono Clients.
II. 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 to ten
names, depending on the amount of experience a candidate has
III. Set up a
meeting. It is very advisable to meet with each reference
personally if possible. At the very least send them a note stating
that you are job hunting and would like to use them as a
reference, or call them. 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 seeking. Give them
the impression that their reference is critical to your obtaining
your personal information. Refresh their memory regarding
the position you held, go over your past responsibilities, remind
them of solid results you gave the company. It is not a bad idea
to visit the HR Department and verify that all information in your
personnel file is correct. Go over with each reference what they
will say in response to questions regarding your strengths and
V. Conduct a
personal exit interview. Go over with each reference what
they will say in response to questions regarding your strengths
and weaknesses. You should try to learn what your references are
going to say about you. Do not take things personally, be upbeat.
During the conversation update them on what you are doing, and how
you have been adding experience and turning old weaknesses into
new strengths. If they feel you are aware of your own weaknesses
it may lead them to say you are open-minded and that you strive to
grow professionally. One of the key skills in the workplace is
effective communications. Your reference will feel comfortable
stating you are a good communicator if you have filled them in on
who, why, what and when.
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 to happen is to lose out on a good position because
you did not have your references prepared. You can even use your
references as very effective networking tools, mention that you
are currently seeking a new position and wondered if they would
mind if you used their name as a reference. Tell them 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. Ask
them if they know of any current job openings in your field.
Communicate with your references. When a specific offer is
on the horizon let your references know the company, and that you
will be using them as a reference with. When you advise them of
the company name they feel comfortable giving out information
about you or return the call in a more timely fashion.
Follow-up with your reference. When you get your new
position, make sure you call them and advise them of your new
position. Keep them posted about your career, when and if you need
them in the future, they will feel warm about you.
to detail. Always check to be sure of the correct telephone
number, area code & company name when giving out references. With
today's mergers and other technology changes things are changing
daily. Should you list an incorrect telephone number, or if a
reference has taken a position elsewhere, it looks as though you
are totally out of touch with your references.
X. Check your
references. Why leave it to chance. If you are not 100%
convinced that your references and past employers will relay
positive comments about you to prospective employers, then check
them 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.
Click Here to read Terra's next article titled "How to check
your own references"
About the author:
Terra L. Dourlain is a Career Transition Specialist and
Executive Career Coach with an extensive background in employee
training and development. As President of Faith, Winter & Grace,
Inc. she has assisted hundreds of senior level candidates through
successful transitions. Currently, Terra is the Managing Director
(an Allison & Taylor Company), the nation's oldest professional
employment verification and reference checking firm. Please visit
their site at
or call (800) 422-3905 to learn more about this valuable service.