Help your job reference help you

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jul 26

Last week, I had the opportunity to provide a job reference to a potential employer for a person I know. I was happy to provide the reference — but it could have been so much better.

You see, this person didn’t let me know I was needed as a reference. In fact, until recently, I didn’t even know this person was looking for a job. Then this reference request pops up in my in-box out of the blue. Good thing the person asking for the reference put the job candidate’s name in the subject line or I might have simply deleted it without reading it. Popular web sites get a lot of spam e-mail in case you didn’t know.

Here’s why the reference could have been so much better:

Customize the reference to the new job

I had no idea what job the reference was for. Was it for a CEO position or a call center agent? Based on the past history of the candidate, I guessed the job — and guessed wrong.

Now, I didn’t totally customize the reference to my guessed job, but that also meant that I was more general than I like to be for the reference. Hey, you were asked for references, the least you can do is send your references the job description so you can help your references to help you.

Highlight transferable job skills

No one has the exact skills for any particular job, but most people have transferable skills that will significantly help them get up to speed on the job. As a reference, I want to be able to highlight those job skills to bolster the candidate and help reassure people that the person can do the job and is willing to learn.

But without knowing what job the reference is for, it’s tough to highlight transferable job skills to the potential employer.

Focus on the strong points from the interview

If most of the interview was about job skills, then I want to focus more on job skills in the reference. If the interview was more about fitting into the team, then I want to spend more time in the reference about the person’s ability to fit into the team. When there are only three answers to interview questions, having a reference answer all three but spend the most time on the one the interviewer spent the most time on makes the most sense.

But, of course, I didn’t know what went on in the interview(s).

Use ALL of your resources to get the job

In a world where there are five candidates for every job, why would you leave one of your best weapons — your job references — locked away and unloaded?

I know that far more companies don’t check references than do. I know that because great job candidates who can use me as a job reference call or e-mail me letting me know that I was given (with my permission) as a reference check. I get the job description. I ask about what happened in the interviews. I ask the job candidate what they think are their strong points for the job. I ask about what they know about the competition for the job.

I get all of this information to be ready to write the reference…and then I never get a reference check from the company. Plus my person calls me to let me know they got the job. And it’s okay the company didn’t check references because my person did all the right stuff and I was totally prepared to write the reference.

But to get blindsided with a reference check means your job references need to guess. To write something good when they could have written something targeted specifically for the job and showcasing your best work. Providing a good — instead of  a great — reference loses an edge to your competition. Making your references guess about your job in this job search environment is the last thing you should be forcing your references to do because they didn’t know a reference check was coming.

How do you let your job references know a reference check could be coming?

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