Using Your References Stragetically

If an employer has asked for your reference details, you may only be one step away from being offered your dream job. Although you have no control over exactly what your referees will say about you, there are a number of things you can do to influence the process and ensure a positive outcome:

1.  Make sure that your dates of employment and responsibilities listed on your resume are a true reflection of the job. There is nothing more embarrassing than having to explain why your referee insisted you only worked for them between 2011 and 2013 but your resume indicated you were employed until 2014.

2.  Provide your referees with as much detail about the job as you can. If they know the key elements about the job you are applying for and they will be able to provide relevant and useful context in your reference that may really influence the outcome.

3.  Contact your referees and advise them that you are exploring a job opportunity and make sure they are ok to be a reference for you. I am constantly taking references from line managers who have not spoken to their former employee in years and were certainly not expecting my call. This puts everyone on the back foot. If your referee is expecting the call, they normally have had time to think through what they will say beforehand.  It also means they are actually available and willing to help. I recently had a candidate as the front runner for an urgent role. Upon contacting her referee, he could not remember her at all, even though she had worked for his business for over a year. Needless to say, she missed out on the job when we were unable to obtain a reference.

4.  Choose your referees carefully. I recently completed a very average reference on an extremely high performer. Although the candidate was phenomenal, the referee was a very average communicator. This really impacted on his ability to communicate the strengths of the candidate. Fortunately we had two other excellent references and it was not an issue but it could very easily have been a deal breaker. Referees also often forget the details about your performance in a role, particularly if you worked for the business several years ago.

5.  If you are working through a recruitment firm, make sure you get feedback on what your referees are saying about you. Just in case you are not aware that under the Privacy Act, you have a right to see what information has been collected on you and this includes references.  It may help you to know what information your referees are putting out to the market about you. Very rarely will the feedback from a referee be what you are expecting.

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