Q. How do you use references? I was laid off and asked for written references from my supervisor and manager. They said they would give me good references but they don’t want to write anything. What’s up with that?
A. References do make a difference for all levels of job seeker, and preparing your references to support your candidacy can make the difference between getting an offer or not.
It’s great that your supervisor and manager will provide you with good references, and I commend you for asking. Some people who have been laid off are reluctant to ask, and they should not be. Asking for a positive reference is smart – even if you may not actively use the person as a reference. You remind the person that you need positive comments about your work, and typically from their response, you’ll discover if you want to take the reference preparation process to the next step of reviewing your resume and discussing the areas where you want focus. Even if you ask someone to be a reference, if you aren't convinced they will do a great job for you, don't use them.
Written references continue to be needed in a few industries, academia being one, but most organizations have policies preventing employees from providing written references. Liability issues have caused this to be the case, and hiring organizations know this because they most likely have a similar policy.
I believe verbal references are the most valuable. You have the opportunity to prepare your reference. Review your resume with the prospective reference. Make sure they understand your accomplishments, and can address these very positively. Point out the areas you really want them to highlight for a prospective employer, and make sure your work style is also discussed in the most positive terms. Your reference should be consistent, but not identical. They need to speak from their own experience with you, and address different areas of your strengths, and why you would make the perfect hire.
Whether names on an application, or provided to a retained search firm, references should have agreed to be a positive reference for you, and know every time you have provided their contact information. Good references are people who want to support your success, and can confidently and enthusiastically address your most positive professional attributes.
References are typically not asked for or provided until after the interview. But if hiring organization staff know people at organizations you worked for, they may call them – whether this person is a formal reference or not. Lots of information is shared this way, so the more people you ask to speak positively about you, the better.
Call or email your reference any time you provide their contact information. Review the job, the reasons you are right for the opportunity, and address any issues that may have come up in the interview. Your reference can ease a concern the interviewer has, or support a particular area of interest – only if you help them by letting them know which specific areas need to be addressed. Ask them to contact you after they have spoken with the hiring organization. They should be able to tell you more about your status, and offer you ideas about what else might need to be addressed.
Remember – the job search is often referred to as a job search campaign and ensuring your network and references are all part of your prepared and positive campaign staff will help you win the campaign just a little bit faster.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.