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Help Your References Help You

Help Your References Help You

One Monster Member Asks: I interviewed with a company and was basically told I had the job. They called one of my references, and she said unflattering things about me. I didn't have the best working relationship with her but assumed she'd say I was a reliable worker. How do you provide potential employers with references who'll help land the job?

What the Expert Says: Think of your references as houseplants that need nurturing. It's up to you to keep your references up to speed on your whereabouts and help them weed out bad information and recall your good accomplishments.

Colorado Springs-based human resources consultant Wendy Bliss, author of Legal, Effective References: How to Give and Get Them, answers some common reference questions.

When Do You Provide References?

Simply put, provide references only when potential employers ask. "Some people hand out a reference list along with their resume, but if it's in the initial phase of the application process, your references could get contacted before you have a chance to tell them about the job," says Bliss.

How Do You Let Your References Know?

If you feel you're close to receiving a job offer and you're interested in the job, contact people who you know will give the most favorable references. "Also contact your most recent supervisors, since employers will be interested in your last one or two direct managers," Bliss says. What if you had a rotten relationship with a past supervisor? "It's still important to call and let them know an employer may call."

What Do You Tell Your References?

Bliss advises telling references about the job you're interviewing for. Remind references of past accomplishments and successful projects you worked on. "Also give potential references some broad hints of the kinds of statements to make on your behalf," she says. For example, politely state, "Any enthusiastic statements you can give on my performance or work habits will be appreciated. I'm under stiff competition and your reference could tip the scales in my favor."

How Many References Should You Have?

First, understand the difference between a select reference list -- one you put together for an employer that reflects people who'll rave about you -- and a general reference list. The latter will include supervisors the employer will check on anyway. Overall, have at least three people on your select list who will make positive comments about your performance and character, says Bliss.

What If You Have Something Negative in Your Employment History?

Call the supervisor to clear the air, suggests Bliss. Tell him you're looking for a job and that while things didn't work out for you in the last position, you would appreciate it if the supervisor mentions some of the positive contributions you made to the company, including X,Y and Z.

What If Someone Can't Give a Reference Due to Company Restrictions?

Many companies have restrictive referral policies. In general, HR may only be allowed to give out the dates of employment, salary and positions held to a prospective employer.

Bliss offers ways around these policies, such as providing the potential employer with names of clients, customers or coworkers who are familiar with your work in the past job. Another way is to ask your supervisor to provide a personal reference. "It's a very fine line and merely a matter of semantics," says Bliss. That's because the supervisor will ultimately end up talking about your job performance. "They'll be asked questions such as, 'How do you know this person?' and 'What can you tell me about this person?' They're all questions leading back to talking about you as a person and worker."

What Information Can Companies Legally Divulge?

"Topics that are valid for employers to speak out about in reference checking include basic employment history, salary, titles, promotions, positive and/or negative job performance, any disciplinary action and reasons for leaving," says Bliss. However, certain topics such as race, national origin, disabilities, age, religion and other areas are legally protected.

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