Managing references

A good reference from a former boss can be a deciding factor in getting a job, so how can you make sure that bad references don’t hurt your chances?

If you had to quit a previous job under difficult circumstances or are worried that your old boss will run you down, be sure to direct recruiters to people of your choosing, such as an immediate superior, subordinate or colleague. People who are on good terms with you will describe the time you spent at their company in positive terms and highlight your professional qualities and team spirit.

Others can also play this role: customers you have done business with, external collaborators, teachers who can attest to your desire to learn and willingness to work hard, or even a well-known and respected person from your milieu. It is important to suggest two or three people who can discuss your skills, especially ones relating to the job you are seeking. Avoid asking friends or family members: these references will not be taken seriously.

Most importantly, be sure to get permission from anyone you wish to name as a reference. This is the ethical thing to do, and it is also an opportunity to remind them about you and make sure they aren’t caught by surprise if they are contacted and questioned by a recruiter. Under no circumstances should you tell references what to say. It is important that they identify your assets and skills. However, take the time to tell them about the job you are applying for and why it interests you. People who have been notified and are prepared will be valuable assets in your job hunt.

Remember: never list references on your resume. Simply write: References available on request. Get permission from three references and list their names and contact information on a separate sheet that you can give to recruiters if they request it.

How do you deal with bad references?

If you had to leave a job, explain the reasons behind your decision (lack of challenges, a move, scheduling conflicts, etc.). Cast your explanations in a positive light, and do not put down your colleagues or former employer as this will ruin your chances of getting that great new job. Your criticisms may be justified, but if recruiters hear you complain about a former employer or colleague they will imagine you doing the same thing in their companies and worry that you will create a negative work environment.

Are you certain that your old boss will be contacted? Be up front about things. Make the first move and explain why your ex-boss may have negative things to say when asked about your work experience. Be respectful and don’t lay any blame. Choose explanations that justify your decision (expectations not met on either side, having to work alone when you would rather be part of a team, etc.).

Have answers ready for any questions that worry you, so you won’t be taken by surprise. Self-assurance and honesty will strengthen your case and, most importantly, ensure that you do not contradict your references. This kind of attitude will reassure the recruiter, who will be looking for just these qualities in prospective employees.

Good, wisely selected references will play a decisive role and increase your chances of getting that dream job. Job hunting requires a full-time structured approach. Don’t leave anything to chance. Keep your resume up to date, take control of your job search, and succeed in your job interviews. The reward for your efforts will be a job that is right for you.

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