Managing references is an aspect of the job search process that far too many take for granted. Candidates would be surprised at how often they lose an offer because of mistakes made in the selection of references.

Here are some key issues to think about:

  • Candidates who are out of work will, in all likelihood, go through multiple searches before landing the right job, so be prepared with two or three reference lists.  Not overworking your references is the best way to show them your respect and appreciation.  This also allows you to target your lists to particular types of searches or types of organizations.
  • Be mindful of the time requirements for a typical reference interview – 20 to 40 minutes.  This means a reference can spend 90 minutes or more on the telephone with recruiters if you are a finalist in three searches.
  • In addition to the reference’s telephone number, provide the recruiter with their email.  This allows the recruiter to set up a specific time for the call without the involvement of an executive assistant.
  • When putting together your reference list it should be done in a clean, professional manner just as you would for your resume. Be sure to include not only the key contact information for each reference contact, but also where you worked together, what your relationship was – supervisor, direct report, colleague, etc. – plus, their current employer and position.
  • Give your references a heads up if you know a call is forthcoming.  There is nothing more frustrating for a recruiter than to inadvertently surprise a person on a reference list.
  • Periodically touch base with references to make sure nothing has changed with their contact information. Calling the contact number provided by the candidate only to find out that the reference is no longer employed at that organization or that the telephone number has changed, screams to the recruiter or the decision maker:  “I do not pay close attention to details!”
  • If you come up as the bridesmaid twice, you need to take a step back, rethink your interview presentation, how you have handled tough questions and, most especially, you need to focus on who you are using as references and what they might be saying.  Damning by faint praise is a common reference occurrence.  One less than sterling reference report could doom you in an intensely competitive job market.
  • Be thankful.  When a recruiter contacts references, be sure you communicate with them regarding the outcome of the search and to thank them for their continued support.  It is always appropriate to ask if you can use them again in another search.  A “snail mail” note of appreciation is always appreciated by references.

The question of reference letters continues to come up in career management seminars.  The most frequently asked question is:  Can I use letters from my references to minimize the time they have to take to assist me in my job search? As a recruiter who works exclusively on senior-level executive assignments, I prefer to personally talk to candidate references.  Letters of reference rarely touch all of the candidate personality traits, their level of emotional intelligence and their performance within targeted areas of interest.

When we ask for a list of names in specific categories and the candidate sends multiple letters of reference it raises a caution flag. Although many good candidates use letters to be respectful of their references’ time, it raises eyebrows and creates concern that perhaps there are issues that the candidate is trying to manage by controlling the reference process.  Send the recruiter the information requested.

There are times in the search process when you do not want to stand out, and this is one of them.

© 2012 John Gregory Self