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Resumes Win Interviews,
But References Win Job Offers

by Terra L. Dourlain,
President of Faith, Winter & Grace, Inc.

Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds are more inquiring than those about to hire you. Rest assured, you will be investigated. As a rule of thumb, the better the job, the higher the pay, - the tougher the screening process. If you are up for a good job at a visible company your references will be checked in great detail. Be aware that your list of references is simply the beginning of the investigation a prospective employer will conduct.

When a prospective employer has completed the first round of interviews and you are in the group of top candidates, the next logical step is to check your references and interview those individuals to whom you reported. Are you certain your these individuals will seal the deal or will they blow it away? If you are like most people you probably haven't given your references much thought. Instead you have focused on your resume, interview skills, networking and what to wear to the interview. Now the focus shifts. Your biggest concern should be the quality of your references and recommendations from past employers, because they can make or break your chances.

About half of all references that get checked, according to Terra Dourlain, Managing Director of Allison & Taylor Reference Checking Inc., range from mediocre to poor. So it is very possible that the great job you lost out on at the last moment had nothing to do with your lack of skills, or being overqualified. It could have had more to do with what one of your references or past employers said about you. So if you are concerned that someone, somewhere, might be giving you a bum rap, there is a one in two chance that you are right. That's a frightening scenario when your livelihood is at stake.

Here is just a sampling of the comments HR people and line managers hear when they check references: "Our company policy prohibits us saying anything. All we are able to do is verify dates of employment and title." Then they have gone on to say things like, "Check his references very, very carefully." Other common conversations include: "Are you certain he gave my name as a reference?"; "Although we are currently in litigation..."; "We miss him very much."; "After we settle our lawsuit"; "Let me see what the paperwork says I am able to give out regarding ______."; or they seem very surprised and make other innuendoes such as: "Is he still in this field?"

References and past employers won't call and warn you that they are not going to be complimentary. With company policies changing (not that many choose to follow them anyway), new employees in HR Departments, new laws concerning references, company liability when they give references, the reference situation is ever changing and is therefore very volatile. So, you are well advised to take more control of your career momentum by finding out just what every potential reference will say about you. If the odds hold, as they will, those references will range from stellar all the way on down; yet when you know who is going to say what about you, you can pass on your best references with greater confidence. Plus you will have the opportunity to stop references saying things that are not true. Here are ten winning ways to utilize your references:

I. Make a list. Start by making a list of all of your prospective references. Begin with the first job that is relevant in management of your career today. You need to select those who have carefully observed your job performance. Your references need to have seen you in action, hopefully performing well in adverse conditions. But beware, whether you list them or not, your past employers will be contacted. Be sure to gather all important contact data about every potential reference including: Name; Title; Company; Address; Telephone Number; Fax Number; e-mail Address. Other individuals that may prove to be useful as references include: Colleagues; Subordinates; Suppliers & Clients; Volunteer Committees; Pro Bono Clients.

II. Narrow the list. After you have made your list of references, select those that you feel will be most willing to give you an excellent report. A typical list of references should include five to ten names, depending on the amount of experience a candidate has accumulated.

III. Set up a meeting. It is very advisable to meet with each reference personally if possible. At the very least send them a note stating that you are job hunting and would like to use them as a reference, or call them. Be sure to share with them your current resume and let them know of the position you are applying for as well as the type of qualities the company is seeking. Give them the impression that their reference is critical to your obtaining the job.

IV. Confirm your personal information. Refresh their memory regarding the position you held, go over your past responsibilities, remind them of solid results you gave the company. It is not a bad idea to visit the HR Department and verify that all information in your personnel file is correct. Go over with each reference what they will say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses.

V. Conduct a personal exit interview. Go over with each reference what they will say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses. You should try to learn what your references are going to say about you. Do not take things personally, be upbeat. During the conversation update them on what you are doing, and how you have been adding experience and turning old weaknesses into new strengths. If they feel you are aware of your own weaknesses it may lead them to say you are open-minded and that you strive to grow professionally. One of the key skills in the workplace is effective communications. Your reference will feel comfortable stating you are a good communicator if you have filled them in on who, why, what and when.

VI. Be prepared ahead of time. It pays to take the time early in your job search to identify and prepare your references. The last thing you want to happen is to lose out on a good position because you did not have your references prepared. You can even use your references as very effective networking tools, mention that you are currently seeking a new position and wondered if they would mind if you used their name as a reference. Tell them what you have been doing since the last time you worked with them. Not only is this the courteous thing to do it also keeps them updated on your career. Any reference that is well informed about the progression of your career, will be a much better reference. Ask them if they know of any current job openings in your field.

VII. Communicate with your references. When a specific offer is on the horizon let your references know the company, and that you will be using them as a reference with. When you advise them of the company name they feel comfortable giving out information about you or return the call in a more timely fashion.

VIII. Follow-up with your reference. When you get your new position, make sure you call them and advise them of your new position. Keep them posted about your career, when and if you need them in the future, they will feel warm about you.

IX. Attention to detail. Always check to be sure of the correct telephone number, area code & company name when giving out references. With today's mergers and other technology changes things are changing daily. Should you list an incorrect telephone number, or if a reference has taken a position elsewhere, it looks as though you are totally out of touch with your references.

X. Check your references. Why leave it to chance. If you are not 100% convinced that your references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to prospective employers, then check them out. a professional employment verification and reference checking firm can either put your mind at ease, or supply you with the critical information and evidence that has been blocking your job searching efforts.

Click Here to read Terra's next article titled "How to check your own references"

About the author: Terra L. Dourlain is a Career Transition Specialist and Executive Career Coach with an extensive background in employee training and development. As President of Faith, Winter & Grace, Inc. she has assisted hundreds of senior level candidates through successful transitions. Currently, Terra is the Managing Director of (an Allison & Taylor Company), the nation's oldest professional employment verification and reference checking firm. Please visit their site at or call (800) 422-3905 to learn more about this valuable service.


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