Are Your References Killing You?
Imagine you’ve gotten through the first few steps of the hiring process, and now you’re at the gates, ready to get an offer. All that’s left is for you to pass the reference check process.
But that’s a piece of cake, you think. You’ve got great references. All I can say is…
Don’t Be Too Sure
I’ve heard these kind of statements so many times it’s ridiculous.
- “My references are great.”
- “Just ask my references.”
- “Talk to my references; they’ll tell you.”
Many people—hell, most people—think their references will be gold.
“Here, call Joe Blow. He’ll vouch for me.” Or, “Talk to my ex boss. She knows what I can do.”
They’ll vouch for you all right…or give you some cement shoes.
I’ll Vouch For You
Have any of you ever seen the movie, Donnie Brasco? It’s a mob story based on the real-life experience of FBI Agent, Joe Pistone. In the movie, Al Pacino plays Lefty “Two Guns” Ruggerio, who vouches for Donnie Brasco. When a mobster vouches for someone it means the mobster’s life is on the line if that person screws up. Your references might not feel that committed, but they also don’t want to vouch for you if you’re not any good.
In thirty years of recruiting, I have yet to talk to a single reference who will lie. I’ve seen a few who might try their best to avoid answering a direct question, but I don’t think I’ve had any lie to me to make a candidate look better.
What does that mean for you?
It means you need to know what your references really think of you. You need to know what they’ll say when someone asks them the tough questions. You need to brush up on your self-assessment skills, so you understand what those references will be saying about you. How do you do that?
Like most things in life, the best way is by being honest—ask them. It’s as simple as that. And as difficult. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Think about it this way…your references will want you to succeed.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. When my younger brother was looking for a job years ago, I knew a place that might be good for him. I talked to the manager and suggested if they had a spot in sales or customer service, he would be a great candidate. The manager got back to me with a position in management that required a detail-oriented person. I didn’t hesitate telling her that was not the right fit, and I restated my original recommendation. “If you have something that requires dealing with customers, selling something, or even business development, he’s the guy for you. But don’t put him in a job that requires heavy detail work. You’ll both be unhappy.”
Some people might think I’m an ass for doing that to my brother, but I see it differently. I don’t want him in a job that he’s not a good fit for. The way I saw it was I was doing the company and him a favor.
How Your References Will See It
Your references aren’t going to recommend you for a job they don’t think you’re right for. What that means is if they get asked a question about your strengths that hits a sour note, the reference is going to spill the beans.
The way to avoid surprises is to go to your references up front, tell them what the job involves, and what the requirements are, and ask them point blank what they’ll say. Make them be honest with you by telling them they’ll be helping you by telling you the truth now. Give your references the freedom and your blessing to tell the truth and they’ll be more confident, and, more convincing when they talk to your prospective employers.
And let’s face it, employers aren’t expecting to hear all roses when they call a reference; in fact, if all they hear are good things, they’ll suspect it’s a fake reference. They won’t believe it.
How Do You Make Sure Your References Aren’t Killing Your Chances?
By being honest. By talking to them beforehand and telling them of your situation. By asking them to be honest, not just in what they’ll tell a prospective employer, ask them to tell you what they’ll say. If you know in advance what they’ll say, you can adjust your interview accordingly.
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