Over the past decade, I have used one former colleague a number of times as a reference on various employment I was seeking. I consider him one of my A-List references. Whenever I call him after he has done the deed (to see how the reference call went), his answer is always the same, short response: you walk on water.
That of course, is followed by a CSI-like probing by me of everything (including cadence and each stressed syllable) that was uttered during the call.
But it is those glowing reviews that you need to have in your reference arsenal. Moreover, it is a two-pronged thrust:
- Someone who has knowledge of your fantastic, chart-topping deeds
- Someone who can articulate it professionally and smartly
Hold on Sparky, isn’t this more stating not only the obvious but the really obvious (as we are wont to do)? Sadly, no.
Personally - I am shocked and surprised when someone asks me to do a reference for them and the only knowledge I have of their existence is utter, and abject bozoness (“ummmm….when they showed up on time, they usually were sober”) or little knowledge of them at all (“I think I remember seeing their name in the employee directory one time”).
So when selecting a reference, some things to keep in mind before you throw some names to your (almost) perspective employer:
- A is for Adore – not Effort First – that they love you and are willing and able to sing your praises is key. They must be a solid (it cain't be "in between"…no half and half romance will do). If you’re not sure your co-worker or crazy, bi-polar, ex- boyfriend that was also your boss will do you right – then DO NOT submit their name to the panel.
- Know what you did They have to be able to make a good accounting for your skills on the job (or whatever capacity in which they know you). Casual interactions for references is not good (you don’t want them to say, “gee I don’t know” a lot to the person calling them). It has to be more than “Steve was always proficient in his ability to fog a mirror”
- Articulate If your reference has trouble putting nouns and verbs together in a sentence - that can reflect poorly on you (worse if it is a written one – riddled with typos and smiley emoticons). There are ways to mitigate this (as we’ll talk about in the next post). Also - they should be able to speak naturally (and not all Mr. Roboto as if they were reading it off the script you prepared for them).
- Fit You want the references to resonate with the person calling. So Boss A may love you – but what she knows about you may not be important for the job you’re applying for. So – think fit (who can best help me land this gig). Not only do you not want to bring a knife to a gun fight, holstering a rifle to a rock, paper, scissors fight is also bad.
- RHIP Having (at least) one high-ranking, C-level sort is good (CEO, CIO, etc). Additionally, clients are always good (that is someone who hired you above and beyond an employer).
- Shelf-Life I know your Burger King Manager speaks highly of you – but that was 1984 (and Reagan and A-Ha era references might not do you good). BTW – Raymond (Assistance Manager at BK# 1591), if you are still out there, call me.
Don’t forget: Although references are not always checked – assume that they are. References can and will be used against you.
So - take me to the river, and drop me in the water.
Up Next: How do I prep my references? (which assumes of course, that you indeed prep them)