Employer References: A Deal-breaker Most Job Seekers Overlook

– Posted in: career coaching, marketing yourself, negotiate and close the offer

As much as the market changes, good job search practices (like strong employer references!) stay the same. I have written before about how your professional references are critical and should not be an after-thought in your job search. Yet, in two separate searches in the last month, the employer reference stage either sealed or unsealed the deal.

An experienced but junior marketer had a short stint for his most recent job. In the interview, he was forthright that there was a personality difference between him and his supervisor. In the reference check stage, the head of HR actually broke company policy to speak candidly with me (it’s common for companies to have a policy forbidding reference checks). But this HR executive wanted to confirm the candidate’s story to ensure the candidate got fair consideration in his next role.

On the flip side, I reached out to a former supervisor of a senior executive. The upcoming role was a top job which meant management, operational and business development responsibility. I needed to confirm that this executive was effective on all three fronts. One of his references could not give me solid examples, so it was clear he wasn’t that close to his work. Another reference was solid but was an industry peer, not a supervisor. The third reference gave a strong personal reference but discounted much of the professional accomplishments the candidate had taken credit for. Yikes! Needless to say, this candidate is out of the running.

 

Do you have references who will speak up for you and support you, even if it means bending policy or stepping into a conflict?

Do you have references who know your work firsthand?

Do you have references who can substantiate the claims you make on your resume and in your interview?

 

Poor references are a deal-breaker in the job search — at every level in every role. Make sure you take the time to manage your references well before the offer stage so that you sail through a reference check.

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2 comments… add one
Patrick December 7, 2019, 3:17 pm

I would like to ask this. Due to a prolonged illness, I’ve not been employed for over two years and prior to that only as a contractor for a variety of roles, typically break-fix positions, for approximately three years prior to that. I would be difficult, if not impossible to reach any supervisors at this point. I doubt I could even find a peer reference due to job changes and no one really likes to stay in touch with anyone that sick.

What would you recommend in this situation? I’ve been employed in the IT industry for just over 20 years. Unfortunately, many of the companies I worked for no longer exist.

Thank you!

Caroline Ceniza-Levine January 17, 2020, 9:13 am

Patrick, thank you for your question. I have queued it up to be covered in a future blog. In the meantime, here are some quick tips: I would still try to reconnect with people — I have found people much more willing to help than job seekers assume, and everyone understands the importance of references. Beyond supervisors, tap colleagues, vendors, consultants, and clients of the places where you worked. References can also be from volunteer positions, community positions, or things outside of paid work. It could be worthwhile to do some volunteering, if you aren’t already, to get those references.

  • Patrick December 7, 2019, 3:17 pm

    I would like to ask this. Due to a prolonged illness, I’ve not been employed for over two years and prior to that only as a contractor for a variety of roles, typically break-fix positions, for approximately three years prior to that. I would be difficult, if not impossible to reach any supervisors at this point. I doubt I could even find a peer reference due to job changes and no one really likes to stay in touch with anyone that sick.

    What would you recommend in this situation? I’ve been employed in the IT industry for just over 20 years. Unfortunately, many of the companies I worked for no longer exist.

    Thank you!

  • Caroline Ceniza-Levine January 17, 2020, 9:13 am

    Patrick, thank you for your question. I have queued it up to be covered in a future blog. In the meantime, here are some quick tips: I would still try to reconnect with people — I have found people much more willing to help than job seekers assume, and everyone understands the importance of references. Beyond supervisors, tap colleagues, vendors, consultants, and clients of the places where you worked. References can also be from volunteer positions, community positions, or things outside of paid work. It could be worthwhile to do some volunteering, if you aren’t already, to get those references.

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