Gathering References That Make You Shine

The references you use to get a job are more vital than you think. Many times, applicants just throw a bunch of names together not truly thinking of their importance. Human resource staff across the country all agree that references that rave about your skill and work performance are the ones that are highly regarded. It’s an importance aspect of the interviewing process that should be paid more attention to rather than giving a cursory glance.

When a human resource rep contacts references listed and they receive a less than positive response, it makes them wonder if the candidate really took the time to seeing towards their application packet. To begin with, did they even ask the person to provide a reference for them, and if they did, why did they ask a person who would give them a less than glowing characterization. It makes the applicant appear unorganized and as if they have a poor work ethic- not even figuring in the bad reference they received from one of their contacts listed. Even if the interview went great, odds are they will not receive a job offer. has supplied some helpful tips that will ensure you get your references back where they belong- making you shine like a rock star.

When Sarah Stamboulie worked in human resources at Morgan Stanley and then at Cantor Fitzgerald, she routinely checked job applicants’ references. They were not always positive. “You know it’s bad when you ask about the person, and then there’s that pause,” she says. “Or they might say, ‘Is attendance important to you?’” Or they claim that their company policy prevents them from talking about the person. “If you get three of those, you’re, like, this person is not good,” says Stamboulie, who is now a career coach in New York.

Choose references wisely
Which leads to the first rule of references: Use someone as a reference only if you’re certain he or she will sing your praises. “Hiring managers expect a rave,” Stamboulie observes. When you approach people to ask for a reference, you can make light of the fact that you’re asking for a cheering section, but do ask. Stamboulie also advises giving people an out, saying something like, “I know it takes time to be a reference, and I completely understand if you’re too busy.”

Deal with bad references head on
What if your immediate supervisor at your last job hated your guts? Try to find another reference who adores you, Stamboulie says. But if you know that boss is going to run around badmouthing you, take action. One of her clients had a job at Goldman Sachs, where a boss asked him to do something he considered unethical. He left Goldman and started looking elsewhere. Through the grapevine, he heard that his old boss was blackballing him. So he went back to the gentleman and confronted him in person. Soon after, he got a new job in an office that included a fellow Goldman alum. He wasn’t sure whether his strategy to silence that former boss had worked, Stamboulie says, but he did find employment.

Give examples for references to use
Another essential for getting strong references is helping them prepare not only to rave about you but also to offer specific examples of your brilliant accomplishments. Marcie Schorr Hirsch, a consultant and coach in Belmont, Mass., recommends that at the end of any job interview you ask the hiring manager about the strengths of the person who previously held the job. Then share that information with your references. Help them come up with stories of how you demonstrated precisely those strengths. Anita Attridge, a New York career coach, suggests sending references an e-mail with a bullet-point list of achievements they can mention when a hiring manager calls.

Look beyond former supervisors
Hirsch likes the idea of offering a “360-degree” set of references. That means including a superior, a colleague, and someone who reported to you. That way the hiring manager can get a sense of your strengths from multiple perspectives. Scott Robinson, a partner at the executive search firm Kensington International, says headhunters routinely search for references beyond the ones a job seeker provides: “We’ll say to a reference, ‘Who else do you know who worked with Bob?’” And Robinson, who recruits mostly for senior-level positions, sometimes grills references for specifics. Which is why it’s a great idea to supply them with a ready list of anecdotes that illustrate your brilliance.

Make graceful exits
It’s also important never to burn bridges as you exit, even if you’re furious at your soon-to-be-former colleagues. Robinson is currently working with a candidate who felt he was unfairly fired. “He made a big brouhaha about it,” says Robinson. “He had worked at the company for a long time, and now his only base of references is tainted.” The candidate would have been much wiser to have walked out the door, calmed down, and let some time pass before asking his old employer for a good word.