The Job Hunt - Care and feeding of references

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#1
As I nursed a cup of coffee after my workout at the YMCA today, I got into a conversation with some other old guys who are still working full time.

I mentioned I moderated a forum for Quality practitioners seeking to land new jobs. I ended up running into a buzzsaw that resulted in about ten men & women ultimately joining the discussion with lots of raised voices.

In future threads, I'll take up some of the topics which were raised, but today I want to cover one which raised a lot of heat in that discussion - references!

I won't try to recreate the discussion, but I do want to cover some of the points which I think are absolutely crucial.

  1. Get permission in advance to use someone as a reference.
    (I was surprised to learn these folks had all been blindsided by prospective employers calling for personal references (not simply business data) for folks who had never discussed, let alone asked permission to use them as personal references. In each case, the caller said, "John Doe gave you as a personal reference. What can you tell me about him?" In most cases, the person cited as a reference didn't even have contact information for the job candidate.)
  2. Discuss in advance what you are trying for and confirm what the reference is going to say.
    (Is he going to sound credible? Will it help or hinder? Does it jibe with the stuff in your cover letter and resume?)
  3. Don't give a PERSONAL reference until you have an interview with a prospective employer.
    (More on this point later in the thread.)
  4. Make arrangements to discuss with the reference afterwards about how the phone call went and, specifically, WHO made the call (hiring officer or clerk?)
  5. Thank the reference profusely after each call.
    (I was surprised to learn some folks NEVER called to follow up or thank the reference!)
  6. If you get shut down by the prospective employer, be prepared to discuss with your reference any clues he may have gathered in the reference call.
    (If you know the guy well enough to use as a personal reference, You know him well enough to ask him to "pump" the prospective employer.)
  7. If you think enough of someone to ask him to be a reference, you should also seek some input and tips about your job hunt.
    (At the very least, he should have a copy of the basic resume and an idea of some of the different ways you emphasize different points to be more responsive to a prospective employer.)
Bottom line:
When you ask someone to agree to be a personal reference, you are really asking him to be a salesman to sell a product (you) to a prospective employer. If you are unsure of the sales ability even after your discussion about how to handle a request for personal reference, you should not give this person as a reference. A bad reference is worse than no reference.
Some questions to consider in this thread:
  1. Have you been cited as a reference by a job hunter? What can you tell us about the experience?
  2. How do/did you handle the reference situation in your own job hunt?
  3. As an employer, how did you deal with checking references from job applicants?
 
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Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#2
This is all good advice, imo. I think that the whole business of personal references is pretty odd, though. When I've had occasion to make hiring decisions, I never paid much attention to them past verifying that the reference was legitimate. Negative information is almost never conveyed, and when the information is positive, and I've seen too many cases from the inside where discharged employees were given good references out of some vague feeling of guilt or fear of lawsuits. In fact, I've even seen instances where releases were signed by fired employees who gave their ex-employers indemnity in exchange for positive references. The whole idea stinks to high heaven.

True story: I once had the startling experience of reviewing a résumé from a person who cited me as a personal reference and former boss. I had never heard of the guy, and I quickly verified with an ex-coworker that the guy had never even worked for the company in question (which I had left a year or so before).
 

ScottK

Not out of the crisis
Staff member
Super Moderator
#3
True story: I once had the startling experience of reviewing a résumé from a person who cited me as a personal reference and former boss. I had never heard of the guy, and I quickly verified with an ex-coworker that the guy had never even worked for the company in question (which I had left a year or so before).

so did you give him an interview? I think I would have just for the look on his face when I point this out. :D
 

Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#5
so did you give him an interview? I think I would have just for the look on his face when I point this out. :D
I toyed with the idea of calling him in, but settled on just calling him. I got an answering machine and left a message, and my guess is that he edited his résumé as soon as he heard it. :cool:
 

SteelMaiden

Super Moderator
Super Moderator
#6
Have you been cited as a reference by a job hunter? What can you tell us about the experience?
Numerous times, mostly by temps, co-ops and other part time employees who were college students or people just looking for a decent job. They always asked me before their time with us was up. Most of them I was happy to oblige. I wrote letters of recommendation for all but one along with my contact information for future employers to call me for further information. The other one, I told them they could use me as a referrence and that they could give out my contact information. If contacted in regards to that person, I would have played up their good points (they did have many) but I would have stopped short of a full fledge endorsement.

How do/did you handle the reference situation in your own job hunt?
Well, back 30 years ago when I came to work for this company, my prof at college actually recommended me as a co-op student. I never applied for a job here in all actuality. It was only a formality. They called me because they wanted a co-op, I thought long and hard because I was planning to continue my college education. They finally convinced me that it was a way to save some money for my next year's expenses, and the rest is history. From there on, all my jobs have been transfers. Most of the time I either know some people who will vouch for me at the new division or the people doing the hiring check with my counterparts at other divisions.

There has only been one time that I have used the name of a person I was working for at the time as a reference for a new job, and that was because that supervisor truly did want to see me move up the ladder and he actually was the one who told me about the opening and felt that I deserved the position.
As an employer, how did you deal with checkng references from job applicants?
Our hiring always goes through "team" interviews. I don't get as involved here as the last plant I was in. But, we first asked around to see if people knew the applicant and his/her references (mind you, this was only asked of people who were very circumspect and trusted employees. Often, one of us would know the references and that person often made the calls.

One thing I will agree to, most of the time a call to a reference was often just a formality. You seldom get the whole truth, and if you "do" you often feel that the prospective employee was probably right to get the heck out.

One of the best employees I ever helped to hire probably got one of the worst recommendations (from an ex-employer whom I knew to be a horrible person to work for) and one of the worst employees I ever had the misfortune of working with was hired against my recommendation and had glowing reports. (yeah, right, they wanted to be rid of him.) He was fired for cheating on his time sheet, dereliction of duties, telling lies about time missed, and stealing company property. When asked about my thoughts when he came in to interview, I told my boss that at the very least, I was terribly afraid that there was an episode of America's most wanted that featured him.

If I had to say one thing about hiring/firing/being a reference, I would have to say that throughout the years I've worked for all kinds of bosses and learned something from every single one of them. I have tried to apply it all and be the kind of person (leader) that people wanted to work for, not because I am so nice, but because they feel they can learn and grow.
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#7
Don't give a PERSONAL reference until you have an interview with a prospective employer.
(More on this point later in the thread.)
One of the women who joined our discussion didn't know who to be more angry with:
  • The job applicant who included her reference's contact information in a broadcast mailing of her resume to literally hundreds of companies and recruiters, including blind ads
    OR
  • The dozens of companies and recruiters who had clerks and temps calling to "check references" on candidates BEFORE even a phone interview of the candidate. (She ultimately asked the "knockout question" after the first dozen calls: "Have you or anyone else interviewed the candidate yet?")
Questions to consider:
  1. Have any of you heard of, or experienced, a similar situation?
  2. How would you have handled the situation if you were in this woman's shoes?
  3. How much responsibility does the reference have for "setting the rules" when agreeing to be a reference?
  4. Any comments about some of the other points in the list in the first post?
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#9
Jim, pls pardon my ignorance ;)

What does imo mean ? Many people have been using it and I always wondered what is it ?
imo = in my opinion
imho = in my humble opinion
FWIW = for what it's worth
FYI = for your information

someone else may have a link to a website that has a whole glossary of email and instant message "shorthand"
 
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