Job Search Strategies: Protect your references

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Your references are precious.  References are the coin of the realm, in fact, the gold coin of the realm.  Every time you seek a job, even a temporary job, you are asked to list two or three, sometimes more, references.

You have to have credible people of good will who are ready to vouch for you.  It is simply not feasible to operate in today’s job market without this valuable resource.  But this resource has to be protected.  If any of your references are called too often or in a frivolous manner, they may not be available next time you need them.

When you are asked for references, it is very tempting to provide them immediately, neatly listed for the prospective employer’s convenience. The problem is, once you hand over your references, with all their contact information, you have lost control over the reference checking process and any little control you might have over the hiring process.

You will not know when the prospective employer will be reaching out to the person whose contact information you gave.  On the other hand, your reference may not know anything about the job you are applying for unless you can get to them before the interviewer does.

The person vouching for you may unwittingly provide a glowing recommendation that could scuttle your chances of getting that job.  For example, say you have applied for a job as a litigator in some highly contentious setting.  Your reference, attempting to be as helpful as possible, highly recommends you as someone who is very easy to get along with, highly cooperative and the salt of the earth.  All wonderful qualities. Not so wonderful for a powerful litigator position.

To keep control of the reference checking process, especially when applying online, you can write, “References to follow,” or in person, say, “May I send you my references shortly, I have to confirm an email address.”  You can ask if you can provide the reference list once the interviewer has determined that you are probably a good fit for the job.  You could also request that the prospective employer notify you prior to contacting the references. You get the point.

I try to make sure I have contacted my precious references each time I give out their names. I describe the position I am applying for, what organization and who will likely be contacting them (a staff or line person or an HR person), and what I would appreciate they say about me!

The person providing the reference is at that point much better prepared for the conversation. He or she will feel more confident about the recommendation and will probably give a better accounting of your skills and special talents with that particular position in mind.


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