Jim Grant's Blog

Help for Job Seekers – It's all about the process!

Use Your References Proactively

To fully appreciate the value of this tactic, I need to review how the vast majority of job seekers use their references. It goes like this (and it really doesn’t help you land a job).

You contact at least two, not more than four, people and ask them to be references for you in your job search. You put a piece of paper together that names these people, provides information as to how to contact them, and, perhaps, describes their relationship to you. You put this piece of paper among the pile of copies of your resume and you wait to be asked to produce it. Oh, maybe you will offer to provide it to an HR person or a Hiring Manager before it is requested, but if you do, the response will typically be “We don’t need it now,” or “Not now, maybe later.” When does an HR person or a Hiring Manager ask to see your list of references? Answer: Right before they are going to make you an offer. (Some may wait until after the offer is made and state that the offer is contingent upon you passing the background check.) Now what happens? Probably the HR person, but maybe the Hiring Manager, calls your references and asks a variety of, most likely, generic questions like: “The job seeker told us such-and-such. Is that true?” or questions that really only amount to “Is this job seeker a good and upstanding person?” Well, what portion of the time do you think a reference says anything negative about a job seeker? Like never. I mean, you, as the job seeker, picked your references. You didn’t pick anyone who would say anything negative about you, did you? So, do references really help you get the job in the typical situation? No, what they really do is keep you from losing it. At best, they are an “after-the-fact” confirmation for the employer that he/she isn’t making a mistake by hiring you. 

How can you use your references proactively? I mean, you’ve got two to four people who are willing to stand up on your behalf and help you get a job. What can they do to really help you? They can proactively contact the Hiring Manager on your behalf. There are two instances in which they can be really helpful: One time is when you first attempt to contact the Hiring Manager. The other time is after the first round of face-to-face interviews, after you’re convinced this job is for you and you are really excited about it.

Here’s how to you use your references proactively. Call them up. Tell him/her you just found a job (or that you just had an interview for a job) that you are very, very interested in. Briefly describe the job and the employer and why you want the job. Tell your reference you’d like his/her help in landing the job. You want him/her to contact the Hiring Manager and explain why you are a really good candidate. Tell him/her you would like to meet with him/her and compose a letter he/she would send to the Hiring Manager.

Now, go meet with your reference. Since a few days have passed since you called him/her, start by again describing the job, the employer, and why you want the job. Then, explain the job requirements. Next, the two of you need to make a list of reasons why you qualify for the job and how you fulfill the requirements. (See my other post titled “The document that is more important than your resume.” It explains the “T-Letter.” Using it is a good source of information about how you meet the job requirements. – You did use a T-Letter to get the interview, didn’t you?) In the course of this conversation, you and your reference should reflect on your prior work experience together. Think of those things you did / accomplished which remind the reference of first hand experience(s) which qualify you for the job. Make a list and be sure to leave a copy with the reference. Also, give your reference this information, preferably in writing:

  • The name of the hiring manager.
  • The hiring manager’s title.
  • The hiring manager’s mailing and/or email address.
  •  The job title.

Outline the contents of the letter for your reference. (Note. Sending an email is just as good as a letter. A telephone call is, of course, better.) Here are some things to consider:

  • An opening statement that names you and the relationship of the reference to you.
  • A statement that indicates you told your reference you have interviewed for the such-and-such job, you have met the Hiring Manager, and that you are extremely interested in the job.
  • A statement, based on your description of the job, indicating the reference thinks (1) you would be an excellent candidate for it and (2) requests that the Hiring Manager give you serious consideration for the position. (In the world of sales, that’s called “ask for the order.”)
  • The reference should then include a description of specific first-hand experiences (two to five should do it) that he/she has had with your work and, preferably, how those experiences and skills will help the Hiring Manager.
  • An offer from your reference to the Hiring Manager for him/her to call your reference if he/she has any questions.

While it is important that the letter be in your reference’s communication style and say what he/she believes, there is nothing wrong with you “taking the bull by the horns” and leading him/her through this, detail by detail. It may be inappropriate in a courtroom for an interrogating attorney to “lead the witness,” but this is one of those times for you to “lead your reference.” Unless you clearly see it is inappropriate with a specific reference, don’t be afraid to actually paraphrase, or even write, the script of parts of the letter.

The last thing for you to do is to ask your reference to let you know when the letter is in the mail.

In return, you have two things you must absolutely do for your reference. First, buy him/her a bottle of wine, tickets to a ball game, or whatever he/she likes. Just be sure to reciprocate in some manner. Do something for the reference which pays him/her back for this wonderful thing he/she just did for you. The second thing is to keep your reference apprised of how your pursuit of this job is going. In particular, if you get any feedback from the employer about the reference’s letter, be sure to pass that back.

There’s a final critical issue about this tactic. How often do you do this with your references? In simple terms, you can’t do it very often. If you do, you are likely to burn your references out. Worst case, they might question their wisdom in saying they will be a reference for you. So, use this tactic when you come across the job you’ve been waiting a long time for.

That’s it. Proactively use your references. I think you will find this will give you a leg up on the other candidates you are competing with on a specific job.


February 10, 2010 - Posted by | All, Pursue Posted Job |

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