The Real Purpose of ReferencesBy Judi Perkins
The purpose of providing references is to close the deal. It isn’t to find out if you are telling the truth about your dates of employment, verify if you have the proper skills or even assure the hiring authority he’s making the right decision to hire you -- though each reason contributes.
If a company is having difficulty deciding which of two individuals to make an offer to, references are usually the deciding factor. If more job seekers understood this, they wouldn’t view the phrase “references provided upon request” so casually.
What constitutes a reference? Primarily, people to whom you have reported in your previous jobs. Secondarily, if you’ve been in your current position a longtime, someone who has reported to you or with whom you have worked closely. In some industries, providing a reference from outside the company – trades, vendors, or long-time customers – can provide an additional perspective that a former employer cannot.
A reference is neither personal nor generic. Your friend on the neighborhood baseball team may say you’re a great team member, but baseball doesn’t equate to the corporate world. References addressed to: To Whom It May Concern aren’t of much value either because they’re non-exclusive. By their very nature generic references are positive – or they wouldn’t have been written and handed to the departing employee. Employers want to speak to the reference themselves --- without the candidate knowing what was said.
When you realize the power of your references and the difference they can make in securing your perfect job, then you understand how important it is to stay in touch. Then when you need them, you know where to contact them.
And if they’re going to close the deal for you, you need to help them do that. This usually goes as far as the job seeker calling the references and asking each person if he’ll act as one. To not ask permission or cue them in as to who will be calling is to deal yourself the ultimate wild card. Cueing them in not only gives the reference the ability to opt out of the process if they wish, but it also facilitates the process, making the call more likely to be returned quicker. More than one offer has been held up for need of references.
And if those two reasons aren’t enough to ask their permission, how about that it’s the respectful thing to do? And would you like to know how many times I was given a name and number only to find the person was long gone from that company? Better me -- a recruiter -- than a prospective employer.
Additionally, get the person a copy of your resume so he has both your dates of employment and your accomplishments in front of him when the prospective employer calls. Tell him about the position for which you’re interviewing and what the company is looking for in their new hire.
Now you’ve provided the prospective employer with verified information from a credible and objective source. Effectively, you’ve eliminated the chance of your previous boss saying, “Well, he was a great employee. And he met all his goals, as far as I can remember. Sure, I’d rehire him.” About all that reference does is tell the prospective employer that you weren’t great enough to stand out in your previous boss’s memory.
All of this is equally applicable if you were fired. Under most circumstances, truth is the only path, and making sure that a reference doesn’t backfire on you is all the more reason to contact that supervisor, no matter how disagreeable the thought of doing so might be. Just because a person or company isn’t on your reference list, doesn’t mean people don’t “know” others in that same industry.
And since you’ve made it this far in finding your perfect job, why gamble and leave the home stretch to chance?