How to bring your referencing A game.
Updated: 6 days ago
I have been in recruitment for several years now and in my experience the more references and recommendations you have, the better your chances of securing an interview or new job. Whether it be more formal referencing once an offer has been made, conversations with former hiring managers during the interview process, or testimonials secured in advance of any approach, they often make a difference and I have even seen them change a hiring manager’s mind. It’s such an important part of the hiring process, yet so often an afterthought or formality. So I thought I would lay out some hopefully useful pointers:
Get as many references as you can, and not just from your ex-boss.
Your peers and people that have worked for you can be just as useful as they provide different viewpoints e.g., if you are going into a role where there have been problems in the team previously, having a reference from someone who has worked for you can evidence your management style and its success.
A reference from HR, which just confirms dates and job title, may not be specifically useful for drawing out successes or qualities you have but is still a valuable piece of information and better than not having that reference. It provides further back up to your CV and it all adds comfort for a hiring manager.
I would suggest getting a company reference as a matter of course when you leave a business and file it.
Company policy these days is normally not to give out specific references.
However, you can try to get an informal personal testimonial from someone. And even if it is not in writing, you could get that person to confirm they would give one if asked verbally.
Line people up in advance
Prepare for this and keep that network of referees warm. You do not need to call them every week but do stay in touch with them. It is also a good excuse to maintain and stay in contact with your network. Not only should you be lining people up in advance in your career generally, but also during an interview process. Someone whom you know in the past has been happy to give you a reference might be useful in this specific instance, so offer it up (assuming you have already asked that person in advance – see Don’ts below).
I have seen references obtained during an interview process (rather than after an offer has been given) have a huge impact – I had a client recently who was not sure about a particular candidate’s desire to get stuck into the detail – for some reason it had not come across in the interview. I was able to present two informal testimonials that pointed to this very point, the client was happy and offered - the candidate is still doing a great job! The ideal strategy is to have a few people lined up and use the ones that are most relevant to that role or to address any concerns that may have come up in the interview process.
Often people are only obtaining references from people they have worked for and so do not offer them back. But as laid out above, references from people who have worked for you can be just as powerful, so offer them back.
Linked In testimonials
Always ask someone to add something to your Linked In profile. It is easy for them, and easy for you to refer other people to.
References are a good way of finding out what you could improve upon and what you do well.
Any good boss should be communicating openly and honestly about your development points, but this is still a useful way to open a discussion.
Don’t give out anyone’s details without getting their permission first.
This is important for so many reasons, from data breaches to your own personal brand and friendships. References can be immensely powerful tools, but if one of your referees is contacted without prior knowledge that it was coming, it could cause you more harm than good. The hiring manager or recruiter may receive a negative response. It potentially opens you up to data breaches and it is just bad form. It is also a good excuse and incredibly positive reason to catch up with someone you may not have spoken to for a while.
Do not use up your referees’ time unnecessarily.
Be aware of your referees’ time. It is as valuable as yours. Having said above that you should line people up in advance, do not expect the same person to give you a reference every time you are in an interview process.
Do not give out reference to details to any old person!
Some employers or recruiters will tell you they need references before putting you forwards at all.
In the first instance it is very unlikely this is required. If a company is asking for it, contact HR and ask why. If a recruiter is asking for it, it is very unlikely to be true.
Secondly, if you do not feel comfortable with the recruiter or anything about the process, do not give out any reference details. Candidates have told me that they have been asked for contact details for previous employers during their first call with recruiters. This is not good practice and is unnecessary. I have certainly asked about people who have worked with someone as I may know them or the company well, or it can give context to team size and who was doing what but am also quite comfortable if someone does not want to tell me names and I have never asked for any contact details or references on a first contact.
In the end, it is entirely up to you and I have never worked with a company that requires it prior to an application. Yes, it can help you to have references in advance of any offer; yes, some companies do like additional comfort as part of the process; but if you feel forced into giving them or made uncomfortable, then the company and/or recruiter are probably not right for you.
Don’t put any contact details for your referees on your CV. I see this so often and I don’t really understand it. It adds no value to your CV, is potentially damaging for you and at best very annoying for the people whose contact details are included.
Don’t list your current boss unless they have specifically said you can and know about your job search.
Sort of obvious but thought I would mention it!
If you would like to discuss references strategy or have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.