Glowing references

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In today’s competitive job market, jobhunters need to do distinguish themselves from the competition. The last thing you want however is to stand out for the wrong reasons



8 July 2009

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Previously, references were a matter of policy but in today’s climate they have become a matter of priority. Ireland is a small country and in the Irish retail market, where it is a case of ‘everyone knows everyone,’ references now range from the formal written document executed at job offer stage to an informal chat seeking a recommendation. Excellent references are something that can set one candidate apart from the next and it is imperative that job seekers understand that and provide both accurate and honest referees.

Unfortunately however, many people make silly or misguided mistakes when it comes to their referees. Over the years in recruitment I can’t count the number of times where a candidate put a work colleague down as a referee as opposed to a line manager. This is not acceptable and may damage an applicant’s chances. On one occasion I remember a junior candidate even nominating his mother; I imagine it would have been a glowing reference had I checked it.

When asking our client companies to recall the most unusual references they have ever encountered, they reported everything from people who never had responsibility over the candidate, to referees that were aghast and indeed offended to even be asked for a reference.

Given that so many job seekers are unemployed in today’s market, and given the common mistakes made in assembling references, we have compiled a list of top tips to give guidance in this essential part of the resumé.

1 Make your former employer aware

Make sure the people you name as referees are aware of this and are comfortable speaking on your behalf. For example, I remember talking to a referee who started laughing because he couldn’t believe he was listed as a referee. And another reference who had never even heard of the candidate he was asked to comment on!

Before you submit a reference list to a prospective employer, provide each of your referees with an updated copy of your CV and where possible, the type of positions you’re applying for. Contacting references beforehand will also allow you to make sure each individual is comfortable about your request. Enthusiastic referees make a great impression and recruiting managers.

2 Choose correctly

When applying for a position you tailor your cover letter to suit the job/company you’re applying to and you highlight the relevant skills on your CV. Just as you make these adjustments, so too should you nominate the right people for references. Consider which of your referees can best discuss the traits and qualities you possess that directly relate to the job. Such individuals might not necessarily have been your boss, for instance if your applying for a sales job, you could supply the contact details of your biggest customer from your previous role.

3 Remember, it’s a small country

Some employers may go the extra mile to learn more about you, so expect ex-colleagues to be contacted along with ex-employers. Potential employers will do some networking to get a line on a candidate; be aware of this and perhaps contact any ex-colleagues you know working for a prospective employer to make sure they are comfortable with your application and seek their thoughts on your suitability.

4 Make referees easy to contact

Make it easy for an employer to speak to your references by providing clear contact information for each individual, including the person’s name, phone number and e-mail address. You might even note the best time of day to reach him or her.

5 Tell the truth

Always tell the truth. Make sure your CV is accurate regarding dates of employment and job titles; dishonesty is easy to spot and will lead to immediate rejection. Recruiting managers are bound to find out if you fudged the truth during the recruitment process so resist any temptation to be less than honest about your experience, and make sure your referees are honest too.

6 Employ courtesy

Even if a referee doesn’t end up speaking to a recruitment manager on your behalf, thank that person and keep him or her updated on the status of your search. When you are employed, be sure to send a thank you note. Also remember to not let the relationships go dormant until you’re on the job hunt again. Keeping in touch with your referees even after you’ve settled into a new job can help you maintain a solid network of professionals that can assist you in various ways throughout your career. Remember, your referees will have to take time out of their day to give you a reference and help you find a job; make sure you say thanks.



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