You're changing jobs. You know you'll need references for your next career move. You've done a great job so you should not worry about getting a reference – right?
References can sabotage even the most sophisticated, well-executed job search. Sometimes you can lose an opportunity when your reference thinks he's helping you out 100%.
Here are 5 ways to make your references work for you, not against you.
(1) Skip the 'To Whom It May Concern' letters.
Clients often tell me their well-meaning bosses offered to write a 'To Whom It May Concern' letter on your behalf. These letters used to be common 20 or 30 years ago.
Today, corporate employers rarely pay attention to these letters. In fact, often hiring managers will be skeptical about any written correspondence.
Let's face it: employers tend to be conscious of lawsuits. They prefer phone calls that are not recorded. When they need a letter, they supply their own forms and they prefer letters sent directly to them.
You will find exceptions in some industries. For example, university professors and administrators typically submit three letters of reference with each application. Often these references will be delivered directly to the hiring department.
(2) Research the way your present boss answers a request: "Can you supply a reference for John?"
Ask fellow employees about their experiences. You might even get a friend to call on your behalf or hire a reference checking service. Expect surprises.
Some well-meaning managers avoid giving anyone a glowing recommendation. 'Nobody is that great,' they say. 'I want to be honest.'
But of course everyone else exaggerates and your reference's well-intentioned honesty will place you at a disadvantage.
Other references are just clueless. My college 'Nick' genially wanted me to get a great opportunity when he wrote a letter for me. But he added a line suggesting I might be 'something eccentric.' I was applying for administrative positions in universities, which tend to be fairly conservative.
I had no idea what was going on and wondered why I was not getting more invitations to interview. One day an interview committee member asked me, 'What on earth does he mean?'
'We are friends,' I said, truthfully, and reached for the phone.
Nick was completely baffled ('I mean it as a compliment') but he agreed to revise his letters so I would sound like the well qualified, experienced, and highly professional candidate I was.
(2) Before supplying names, obtain permission (and be sure they are still available).
You come to the moment of truth in your job search. Your future boss says, 'I am impressed with what I've seen. May I call a few references? '
To prepare for this moment, get permission to give out names. And take the extra step: Find out what happens next.
Your boss may be required to refer all calls to Human Resources. Or she may be moving to a new career and you are part of the past she wants to forget.
When I taught …