Getting interviews through your references is one of the easiest ways to uncover unpublished openings of interest. It takes a bit of effort, but the return on that investment is higher than many other methods of finding a job.


Using Your References is another Way to Go After Unpublished Jobs

Consider the story of Mark. His boss kept telling him he was worth more, but the firm was losing money. When Mark heard the company was to be sold, he felt his salary was ,000 less than it should be.

We helped make Mark aware of the power of his references. Would his boss be a good reference? And, did he feel bad about paying him less than he was worth? Absolutely! Could Mark ask him to act as his reference, and would he raise him to the level he wanted, in return for his staying for the last two months? Yes, and that is what Mark asked for and got!

Now, the boss had a friend in an accounting firm. Mark asked his boss if he would approach his friend as a reference. Together, they visited over lunch. He was happy to act as a second reference for Mark. In the same way, Mark developed a third reference, his own brother-in-law.

When he launched a campaign, he had a good interview with the president of a small paper company. A conservative man, he asked for three references. Mark immediately recontacted his references, so they were ready. After his boss had given him a glowing reference, the president mentioned that he was still uncertain.

When the second reference was called (the boss's friend), he told the president that in the right situation Mark could help save him a million dollars in taxes, as well as control costs.

He had re-positioned Mark in the eyes of this president, from an accountant to a broader-based executive.

Next, Mark's third reference supported what the others said and added a few points. The day after the last reference check, he got a call from the president, and guess what? His message was, "Mark, what will it take to get you?" He ended up with a position as VP Finance, at a much higher income than he expected.

Identify Your Most Important References Early

Most of the time, important references will be the people you reported to in the past, the person you currently report to or their superiors, and on rare occasions, the people who worked for you. Choose the highest level reference, as long as you get an enthusiastic endorsement, and avoid people who don't communicate well.

The references you select should know your background, be familiar with your achievements, and have no hesitation in making strong statements about you. Even though you may never have worked for them, respected people in a scientific discipline, directors of trade associations or magazine editors, all might be of help.

By the way, the ideal number of references to provide will depend strictly on your situation. In most cases, three references will suffice. At other times, the psychology you use may affect your decision. One person gave eight references to an executive and suggested that he select two or three to contact personally.

What your references may say is very important, but the enthusiasm and conviction they project when they say it is even more important!

Prepare Your References with Care

Be sure to let your references know that you have high regard for them and for their opinions. This will reinforce the positive chemistry between you and will make the references want to do their best for you.

Don't forget that even good references will know only part of your background. Make sure that they learn the full story. The importance of preparing your references carefully is well illustrated in the following example.

A woman who had worked for me several years ago left to complete her MBA. She was competent and had a quiet manner, but could be forceful when needed. When she started interviewing, she was careful to bring me up to date on her activities. She also called to tell me that after an interview with a firm she liked, she felt they had some concerns about her quiet nature. Armed with that information, I was ready when I was called by the person who would be her boss.

Before the question was asked, I mentioned that sometimes people could be deceived by this woman's quiet nature, but that I had seen her assert herself time and again. The person, of course, responded positively, explaining that I had put to rest his one concern.

As a rule, you will submit the names of your references rather than presenting letters of recommendation. In the nonprofit, academic and government areas, however, it is traditional to collect written references. These endorsements are frequently required in politically sensitive situations.

Another point is that references are sometimes your best sources of referrals to employers. Leave them a half-dozen resumes. One thing you must do is reassure your references that you will not abuse the use of their names.

After calling your references, send a brief note that shows your appreciation and summarize a few positive things they can say about you. You can even prepare a list of questions that employers might ask your references and suggest answers for them. By the way, be sure to let references know as soon as you have used their name, and ask them to let you know when they have been contacted. This is important because employers will sometimes ask your reference for someone else who is familiar with your performance.

Reference Checks are Growing, and So are the Use of Credit Reports

When checking, people may look to discuss your management style, ethics, work habits, people skills, liabilities, etc., in addition to confirming dates and incomes. Assume that employers will want to check your past superiors. Track these people down for at least the last three jobs or ten years. Don't be reluctant, even if you have not bothered to keep in touch. People like to learn what is happening to others.

In the case of executives who have moved into top management, references from any but the last one or two positions are rarely needed. Let the employer know that you need to keep your activity confidential. This lets them know you have a worthwhile position to protect.

If you have worked in only one job or for only one company for quite a long time, then contact former employees or bosses who have left your company and ask them to be references. If appropriate, consider using customers, suppliers or trade group contacts. In cases where you simply cannot offer references because of confidentiality, you can offer copies of positive performance appraisals.

How to Handle Questionable References

It's long been said that bad references won't hurt as much as the good ones that turn out to be poor. If someone is apt to give you a bad reference, you need to bring it out in the interview and supply enough good ones to offset it.

For example, if the interviewer asks to speak with a reference who will be questionable, defuse the situation by explaining that you had differences of opinion on some managerial styles. Remain totally objective and unemotional, and never imply negatives about that person.

Also, if you are doubtful about what a reference might say, you might have a friend do a mock reference check to find out what is being said. If the reference is neutral, don't hesitate to ask the person to furnish more positive information.

If necessary, explain that their negative input is keeping you from winning a position and enabling you to support yourself and your family. As a last resort, you may have to imply that you will seek a legal remedy.