Don’t let a bad reference destroy your chances of landing the perfect job.
Picture this: You submit your application for a job and actually get a call back. You prepare for the interview and ace not one, but two rounds! The employer tells you that you’re one of the final candidates, and then asks for your references. You scribble down some names and phone numbers on the sheet, already mentally preparing for salary negotiations. And then you never hear back.
That’s what happened to John Harrison* when he interviewed for a position at news station W-CTS* in 2012. One of John’s references, news anchor Nancy Kay*, is a friend of mine. She saw my article on choosing your references and called me with this story. According to Nancy, this is how the reference call went:
W-CTS News Manager: Hello Ms. Kay. I’m Janice* from News Station W-CTS. John Harrison is applying for a job at this station and listed you as a reference.
Nancy Kay: I’m really sorry but I wouldn’t be a good a reference for him. Last time I spoke to him was in 2010.
W-CTS News Manager: Oh my. Okay. Wow. Yes, that wouldn’t be helpful. I’m really sorry to bother you. Are you still the morning anchor at W-AFC in Florida?
Nancy Kay: (chuckling) No, I left that job in 2010 while John was still an intern there.
W-CTS News Manager: Oh dear! I am really sorry to have bothered you. I can’t believe he put you down as a reference, never told you, and listed you with the wrong job. And he was applying for a job that requires a lot of fact-checking! What a waste of our time.
Don’t let this happen to you! Avoid these three mistakes when creating a list of references so you don’t sabotage your job offer.
Mistake #1: The Random Reference
Choose references from your professional life (i.e., leave your mom off the list). Think about former supervisors, colleagues, or people you’ve mentored or managed over the years. If your recent employer has a strict no-reference policy, consider vendors, customers, or former employees of the company you worked with. If you’re new to the workforce, look to relevant professors, your advisors, or people you worked with during internships.
Mistake #2: A Shot from the Dark
A reference is only good if they know who are you are and are willing to be your advocate. That means staying in touch with these people – even if it’s only through a LinkedIn connection and the ‘Happy Holidays’ e-card you send each December. Before you scribble anyone’s name down during an interview, reach out to each person via email or over the phone and get their permission to use them as a reference. Also, find out what contact information they prefer you to use.
Mistake #3: The Call Without Warning
You never want your reference to be caught off guard by a call from a prospective employer. Always give your references a heads up that someone might call, and send them a copy of your most up-to-date resume. Let them know what job you’re interviewing for and what skills or abilities you’re hoping they can highlight based on how you worked with them.
When you properly choose and prepare your references, you can only improve your chances of landing a job. Overlook them, and you could end up like John. Learn from his mistakes so you can avoid this blunder in your own job search.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. But I assure you, the story is real.