Reference: when in a job application?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 - career transition, Employment, Employment Reference, Job Application, Job Interview, Job Interview, references

Reference: when in a job application?


John, a job seeker in sales, asks: I am in a good job at present, but looking to move soon. My question is, when should I seek to line up my references? Most of my old bosses/employers have moved on or gone out of business. Approaching some of my old customers in my present job would be inappropriate now, and my existing customers impossible until I hand in my notice, so I wouldn’t know what either would say. Help!

In answer:
Good question John, and the answer to your question is that you are asking the question at the correct time: get your references lined up BEFORE you get into a job application.

Employers will engage you because of you prove to them that you have:

  • Technical Fit – you meet the minimum standard of the job description
  • Social Fit – you fit in with their manager/team/organisation (in that order)
  • Magnetic Fit – you and the organisation are going in the same direction, so that you won’t be leaving in 3months

But various studies have shown that should your references clash or not meet with one of the prospective employers expectations set by yourself through your job application, that all the hard work before means nothing, and you will not get the job.

Reference: Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll know who you are

Why will you get rejected? Think about it: the employer has known you for five minutes through their own job application process, and you have all the people you know to choose from. Yet the person you choose says something negative about you. The fact that you choose them as an employment reference and that they say something bad about you says more to the prospective employer than their job application process does: dismissed!

In summary, an old adage says: Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll know who you are.

If you follow a conventional employer led job application process, you need your references both lined up, briefed, and positive. How do you achieve this?

Reference: job application

The only way to address the question of references, is first to find and then vet your references. I always suggest to people that they have at least six references lined up. Most employers ask for two or three references, and if you have six then you have a series of different portfolio “pictures” of yourself. You can then choose the right reference for the right employer question that they need answering.

To find out who you can choose from, first make a list and then ask them to provide a recommendation on a business social networking site like LinkedIn. If someone is not willing to publicly say on LinkedIn that you are good/great, then why would they in any form of job reference? Secondly, if they give you a recommendation on LinkedIn, they can then hardly turn around and say something different in a job reference, can they?

Thirdly, using a networking site like LinkedIn – especially if you don’t suddenly have a burst of activity and recommendations come in, raising suspicion in your employers mind – means you can approach anyone on the site or you happen to have worked with/for/against/supply/buy/sold to. Now your potential references can come from old employers, existing work mates and old/new customers and suppliers; and even competitors you may have bid against on, and then chatted to at the bar at the next sector convention.

The easiest way to gain positive references via a business social network is to give positive recommendations. Don’t give them to anyone, but people who you truly would go to in times of either personal or business need, ideally both. In business, the ultimate question has to be: would or did you agree to pay this person for a service, that they then truly delivered? If yes, then satisfied customers are the best references.

Having completed this exercise, you now know who your reference friends are. You can now start briefing them on your job application aspirations. But had you thought about it – this is a whole new opportunity to find a job!

References and employment

If you ask someone for a reference, and they happily provide one, what does this say about your relationship with them?

It effectively means you now have a new advocate, who most likely having given you a positive reference would be willing to introduce you to their wider business contacts as a warm introduction. Secondly, if they are asked by someone in their network who do they know who could do a particular job, and that job description fits your skills, would they recommend you? If they have given you a reference, then most likely yes.

If such a person is willing to give you a reference, then they could have the inside track to your next position, secured through warm recommendation over a cold and competitive job application process.

So, next time you think about a job application, first act on gaining references. Rather than being an administrative task you have to worry about completing at the end of a job application, they could be a new route to a whole new and easily secured career opportunity.

Good Luck!


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