Taking Up References: Dos and Don'ts

At the end of the hiring process and before receiving a confirmed offer, an employer is most likely to want to take up references. They may also want to speak to your current employer once you have resigned.

Done well, this process can really enhance your attractiveness as a candidate and can help you to make an impressive impact in your first 90 days. Done poorly, however, it will actively work against you and may even scupper your chances of getting hired.

Here are some simple Dos and Don'ts to help you navigate through this phase of the job search process: 

  • Do understand how the recruiter/hirer will take references. They are likely to email the person(s) that you nominated in advance to arrange a 15-minute conversation. They will most likely not send the questions that they intend to ask in advance. 
  • Do understand the questions that your referee will be asked. Here are some examples that I came across time and again when I worked as a head hunter in the City:
  1. Please confirm the dates that you worked together.
  2. What was your role relative to the candidate’s?
  3. Tell me about the candidate's major achievements.
  4. What is the best way to manage them?
  5. Please tell me about his/her leadership style.
  6. Would you employ them/ want to work with them again?
  7. Is there anything else that I should know (i.e. are there any skeletons in the cupboard)?
  • Do keep you network fresh, especially with your former managers. The first time that they hear from you in five years does not want to be when you need a favour.
  • Do ask key people in your career history if they will act as a referee plenty of time in advance, and if they agree, let them know to expect to be contacted by the recruiter/ hirer.
  • Do get your timing right. Ask only when you are certain that you will be offered the job.
  • Do feel confident that the referees you select are going to say good to great things about you. You do not want to be damned by lukewarm praise! 
  • Do be ready to ask your current employer or manager to give a reference once you have resigned.
  • Don't overuse you referees; only ask for their help in this way when you know that you really want this job and if offered, you will definitely accept.
  • Don't offer your best friends as referees - it’s more than a little transparent and risks backfiring. 
  • Don't overdo the "Recommendations" in your LinkedIn profile. Some well-written recommendations look great, but too many can look excessive. 

I hope that you have found this useful. What has been you experience of the referee process?  Did we miss anything that you would like to add?

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