Nailing your Job References
Selling yourself during a job interview is crucial, but choosing the right people as references is just as important. To ensure you land the job, it’s recommended that you choose people who can be enthusiastic about you and your skills. They also need to be able to fill in any gaps you have missed in your interview. It’s also important to have a plan in place for ‘back door’ references. Meaning people who have worked with you but aren’t on your initial reference list.
Companies usually call your references when you’re a finalist for a role. But you may not be the only one; this reference check could determine whether you get the role. When they’re calling a reference the employer is looking to gain deeper insight into your strengths, development areas, workstyle and whether you’d fit into the company culture and team you want to join. To help you on your interview journey, we’ve got 3 steps on how you can choose suitable references.
Step 1. Choose the right references
Whether you pick your former manager who can describe your work in detail. Or colleagues from other departments who can speak to your ability to work across the company. The most important thing to consider when choosing who to list as a reference is who can be the most enthusiastic about you as a candidate. Enthusiasm matters as much as what they say about you.
Hesitation can sink your chances of closing the job. When you ask someone to be a reference, ask if they can be an enthusiastic one. If you hear only hesitation, don’t list that person.
Step 2. Prepare your references
This is your opportunity to prepare your references to focus on the right areas to help you secure the job. At a minimum, you should make sure your references know two things. First, provide them with the job title and description. Secondly, they should know what information you want them to convey to the interviewer. Is there anything you were unable to or forgot to mention in your interview that would be helpful for them to know?
Be sure to provide examples of whatever information you want your reference to incorporate into their discussion. If you’re unsure what you want to include, you can consider the following:
- What skill set is critical for the role, and which of your specific skills directly transfer into the role,
- Which qualities make you a great candidate for the role
- Which unique qualities make you stand out among the other possible candidates
- Are there any areas of improvement your reference should address?
Ensure they have a way to answer a question about your weaknesses or areas of development, that you’ve worked hard to overcome. As well, if you were terminated from a role for performance and gave the interviewer an ‘alternate perspective’ to explain your departure, make sure your reference is aware of it.
Step 3. Manage back door references.
Many employers will seek ‘back door’ references, meaning someone who has worked with you but isn’t on your reference list. Those types of references can be more genuine in their characterisation of you, or less genuine if they had a direct conflict with you. Unfortunately, this happens and if you left the company in an unprofessional way and the interviewer knows someone who works there. This could sink your chances. Even if you’ve learnt from the experience and grown, your previous behaviour may follow you.
You can’t stop someone from saying something bad about you, but you can grow from every experience and show your growth in the next opportunity. Look on LinkedIn to see if there are mutual connections who may not provide a positive back door reference. Even if you find no connections, know that the world is small and people have connections.
The best way to ensure that everyone you work with has something positive to say about you is to build solid working relationships. In every job, find your champions who know your value. If you notice relationships suffering because you may have offended someone or didn’t show your best side, consider mending that relationship. Having self-awareness and growth may change the perspective of a back door reference.