We all know that one of the things we must do when we are starting a job search or contemplating a career change is to secure our references. Its elementary, Correct? So, while this is one of the building blocks of finding a new job, does it surprise anyone that this is one of the most frequently glossed-over or even overlooked parts of the process? Yes, it is!

Landing a job today is much harder and certainly more frustrating than ever before. So, when it comes to the part that should be a slam dunk, why do so many of us treat it so nonchalantly or ignore it altogether? Think about this for a minute. You spend months applying for jobs online and hear nothing back. You talk with dozens of recruiters and get a few interviews that go nowhere. You have sent your resume around to everyone you know hoping they might know someone who has a need for someone like you. There is so much of this process that is out of your control. But there is a part that is 100% in your control. And many of us ignore it. Knowing how your references will respond is something you need to understand prior to starting the search.

It is a good idea to have four references. They all need to be business-related. Breaking it down further: a boss or supervisor, a peer or colleague, a vendor or customer, and someone you supervised. Do not use friends, cousins, neighbors, etc., unless they can answer questions about how you behave in the workplace.

I have witnessed more than a few of my clients lose a job offer because they did not properly vet their references. It is important you know what they are going say when asked about you and your work habits, your leadership style, how you interact with team members, what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, how you dress, if you come to work on time, etc.

Unless you personally speak with each one of your references and stress to them the importance of what you are asking them to do, and you are 100% confident they will accept the responsibility and speak favorably about you, you are setting yourself up for a monstrous letdown. Here is what you will avoid that I see happening every day:

  • Your reference is called multiple times, but never answers the phone and does not return the call.
  • Your reference tells your future employer they are not allowed by company policy to give out references about anyone.
  • Your reference gives vague or evasive answers.
  • Your reference tells the caller you are a friend and they never actually worked with you.
  • Your reference tells the caller they are too busy and hang up the phone.
  • Your reference flat out tells the person you are a bad employee and they would never hire you again.

This is a small sample of some of the things I see in my practice. In each case, my client originally told me, “Yes, I have spoken with each of my references recently and they are all solid.”

Prior to starting a search compile a list of 6-8 people who you feel will be a good reference for you. Then get on the phone with each one. Be very specific. Tell them what you are getting ready to do and ask them if they will be a reference for you. Then interview them. Ask them how they will answer questions abut your strengths, your weaknesses, how you lead, how you manage, how well you follow directions and how do you get along with team members. Apart from solidifying your references, there is additional value here. When you start interviewing and are asked about your strengths, your accomplishments, what you do well, your weaknesses, etc., you have what your references said about you to fall back on. I have also seen numerous people land a job from a referral they got through a reference after having this conversation.

Within this process, there is so much that is out of your control. Don’t let one of the things in your control prevent you from landing that dream job.

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