Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 86 – Referees

In the February edition of Information Overload for Registrants we looked at the importance of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in relation to your work / job, including:

•    Your Relationship with yourself
•    Your Relationship with your colleagues
•    Your Relationship with your managers / supervisors

The March edition follows on from this in quite an unexpected manner as we discuss what happens when we decide to leave (or have been asked to leave) and we need to find another position. Who do we ask to give us a reference?

In this issue we will look at:
•    Who do you choose to act as a Referee?
o    Personal vs. Professional
•    References from Employment Agency Contacts
•    Avoid the use of Mobile Numbers as Contact Details
•    How far back do you go?
•    Do you send written references?

Who do you choose to act as a Referee?
When a prospective employer is considering offering you a position within their company, they are not just hiring you as a person; they are hiring your personality, your ego, your history as well as your skills and abilities. And who (apart from yourself) is going to be the best person to tell them whether or not you are going to fit into their culture, is by asking how you fitted into the previous culture(s) – in other words they are going to be asking someone a lot of questions and the reason is simple.

A prospective employer is not just looking for a perfect cultural fit, although that would help. Nor are they looking for a perfect educational, skill or ability fit, what they are looking for is (amongst other things) – someone who is capable of doing the job on offer with the people already employed by the organisation. They want to know how much additional training it would take to get you up to speed, or whether you are going to be bored after 5 minutes because you are over qualified and looking at this position as a stop gap measure. They also want to know if you are honest – do you keep good time? Do you spend all day surfing the net or making personal telephone calls, have you been found guilty of fraud or have been the victim or cause of law suits. Which lets face the fact are not questions we would be honest about answering ourselves.

Now a caveat here – A prospective employer cannot ask directly any kind of question that could be deemed to be discriminatory – so a little bit of delicate wording and reading between the lines is definitely called for. But a prospective employer wants to know:

•    How you reacted to certain situations – their take would be different to yours
•    How you handled yourself – you may think you did terribly – they would have a different / wider perspective
•    Did you grow within the position – were you willing to undergo training, what feedback did you get from your probationary period / annual appraisals?
•    Were you honest and above board in your dealings?

Obviously the last question can’t be asked outright – but a few subtle clues can be given – would you re-hire this person – if the answer is NO WAY, then you can tell you might have a problem and the prospective employer may feel inclined to ask a few more questions of a few more people.

So it is vital when choosing your referees to ensure you pick the right ones. But who do you choose?

1.    Pick someone who can comment on your work performance, or if you are just out of school – a teacher / lecturer who can comment on your attitude and aptitude at school / TAFE / Uni.
2.    Do not pick someone who is out of the country a lot of the time – just because their name and position looks good on your CV. It does not go down very well when they can’t be contacted.
3.    Choose someone who is going to give you a positive reference – sounds like rather a strange comment to make, but there are some people who for some reason may not like you, or don’t have a nice thing to say about anyone. They can and will harm your chances of getting alternative work opportunities.

Personal vs. Professional References:
Choosing whether to use a personal or professional reference is entirely up to you, however, if you have held at least one job / position and choose not to use someone from the company to act as your referee it may look rather odd to a prospective employer.

So if you would prefer not to let your present company know you are looking for additional / other work it would be better if you stated on your CV / Resume that references are available on request.

When you are adding your references to your CV / Resume there are some things you should do:

Always put the person’s name, position within company, name of company and company telephone number & preferably the switchboard number on the document as opposed to just a name and a mobile number (more on this later).

Fred Smith
Smith & Sons
08 9876 5432
Reference Type: Professional

If the reference is personal (as opposed to professional) you need to say so. It is also a good idea to state how you know the person (friend of the family)
Joe Bloggs
Reference Type: Personal – Family friend

Again it would be preferable to give a landline / work number as opposed to a mobile number.

References from Employment Agency Contacts:
If you have done a considerable amount of work for any employer – and yes an employment agency is your employer, you are perfectly entitled to ask them to act as your referee during your job hunt. However, there are some things to remember:

1.    Always telephone the agency and ask to speak to your main contact person and ask permission BEFORE submitting your application – it’s the polite thing to do.
2.    If you are applying for more than one position – it is a good idea to give the details (email them through) so the agency contact knows what job you are applying for – it helps when they need to give a reference as to which job they are supposed to be talking about.
3.    An employment agency contact person will not be able to make job specific comments, rather they can only give feedback the client you were working for – gave to them (the organisation you were contracted to).
4.    If you have not worked for the agency in a long time please bear in mind your details will tend not be held in prime office space, but will be held offsite in records storage. This can and does take time to bring back – and this will need to be factored into your choice of referee.

Avoid the use of Mobile Numbers as Contact details:

Mobile phones have become the norm in our day-to-day lives. We think nothing of using the mobile rather than the land line and expect everyone else to be the same way. But are they the best choice of number to give for as the contact point for your CV / Resume? The answer is no, not unless the person travels a lot and can’t be reached in any other way. And the why is simple.

When you dial a mobile phone number, you have no way of knowing if the person on the other end of the line is who they say they are. Unless the potential employer has followed up with the company the candidate has said the referee works for, tried the land line number and were told they were away, and then given the same mobile phone number.

Call me cynical if you like, but if you left your last place of work under less than happy circumstances would you be happy knowing that person was unlikely to give you the best reference? Would you be tempted to ask a friend to take the call and if asked about you give a glowing reference it would make the Pope blush? Believe me when we say – it has happened in the industry and it will happen again (especially now I have just told you about the practice ? )

How far back do you go?
We may be tempted to keep using the same set of referees as we have always done, after all they gave us a glowing reference last time, why wouldn’t we want that to happen again.

There are a number of reasons why this is not a good idea:

1.    The person will not be able to tell a prospective employer about your current skill levels and abilities – we need to be able to show progression through our careers, using a very old referee does not show that at all.
2.    The person may not remember you – as strange as it sounds, they may stand out in your eyes, but that feeling may not be reciprocated.
3.    The person may have died / left the profession / moved countries / jobs / states. Because you failed to verify whether they would be interested in acting as a referee for you (you didn’t telephone and ask) you have proven in one very easy way you do not have “good attention to detail”

To answer the question though depends on you. How long have you held your current position? If your have held your current position for more than 2 or 3 years it is a good idea to use at least one person from that organisation as a referee. Depending on the job you are now applying for, you may be able to tailor the application further by asking a particular person because of their job specific role.

Any longer than 2 or 3 years and you run the risk of the above points coming into play.

We cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of verifying everything before sending in an application. Assuming the person has agreed to act as a referee for you, it is also polite to email them and let them know which position you have applied for and who the company is.

Do you send written references?
This depends entirely on the job you are applying for. Do not send anything that is not specifically requested in the application package. You may state that you have written references if required, but if they don’t ask for them, don’t send them in – and certainly don’t send in the originals as you will not get them back.
And talking of originals – written references need to be on headed paper and should be signed and dated. If sending these to a prospective employer a photocopy is OK, but please be prepared to take the originals with you.

In the employment world we have become a little cynical, and we never take anything for granted, letters not written on letter headed paper are simply not acceptable as you could have written by the applicant themselves.

With many thoughts