Don’t provide references upon request

How do you handle references?

Last week, I got an email with a fresh, new approach: “DON’T call any of my references!” the marketing consultant wrote.

That got my attention, but seemed harsh. Suppose I hired him, and he created a hostile marketing campaign? “STAY AWAY from our products and services. And NEVER try to contact us. DON’T even think about it.”

More about the consultant later. Meanwhile, consider three other approaches to references:

1) Bad: You use that tired, old resume line, “References provided upon request.” Perhaps you imagine the recruiter is about to toss your resume. But then she reads that line:

“Hire him!” she says. “Because he’ll provide references—and he doesn’t even care how we request them. We could ask really nicely, or we could just try to beat the names out of him. He’ll provide them either way. He just needs a request.”

2) Better: Don’t wait for a request. Show up at the interview with a list. (And of course, stay in touch with the people you list.)

3) Best: Prep a one-page list of testimonials called “As seen by others.”

Back to the consultant: he sent his email out of impatience. Weeks earlier, he’d sent me a list of references, and when he discovered I hadn’t called any of them yet, he figured I never would.

He miscalculated.

In fact, I’d already called someone—not on his list. You can almost always, in a linked-in world, find someone who knows someone. The person I called was lukewarm about the consultant.


Still, I was planning to make a few more calls. Then the consultant lost his patience, and lost my business.

But that’s not all: I’m now a reference.

Suppose I’m talking with colleagues, and someone asks, “Does anyone know a marketing consultant named X?”

I’ll say, “Yes! And whatever you do, don’t call his references. He really dislikes that.”

Tip: Treat everyone as if they’re a valued reference. Because they are.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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