Tips for getting references right

News recently that a barrister had faked his qualifications on his CV serves as a stark reminder of the importance of due diligence when it comes to new hires. An essential part of the hiring process is the reference, but it can be a minefield for both those needing a reference and those providing one.

Given the hot water that firms can get into for giving a bad or misleading reference, it has become commonplace for employers to state simply the facts such as job title and length of service, and have a blanket policy on this. Employees need to manage their expectations accordingly.

But if you are applying for a job, it will obviously help your application if there is someone you can rely on to extol your virtues and back up your claims that you will indeed be a brilliant new addition to a firm.

So, who would happily sing your praises? Sorry – relatives and friends are out of the question.

If your boss thinks you are wonderful, and is permitted to say so, then this is your trump card. However, just by asking them, you are setting the cat among the pigeons, revealing you are looking elsewhere.

A previous boss that has since left the firm may be a good option, as can a client. Then you can use your current boss as a referee further down the line, when the job is actually in the bag – although many offers state ‘subject to references’.

This is a tricky call to make as you don’t want to jeopardise your current role but the hiring firm may be reluctant to remove the condition, unless they already know you well, and may well insist that a reference is provided by your current boss.

Consider also peers and those reporting to you as a source of references. 360-degree reviews are becoming popular with hiring managers requesting feedback from a candidate’s colleagues and juniors as well as managers.

Make sure you get the permission of those you’d like to have as referees and give them some advance warning that they may be contacted. Give them a way to decline politely by asking something along the lines of ‘do you have time to provide a reference?’

There is no need to list your referees on your CV – many CVs state ‘references available on request’ but it is arguable that this is unnecessary, as it will be assumed that you can. Your list of references can be kept separately until needed.

Put your list of referees in context so that your relationship to that person is clear, such as projects you have worked on together.

Think about how you can make their lives easier when they are contacted. Consider what qualities and skills are required in the new role, and make a bullet point list of how you meet those requirements. Then, if your referee obliges, these are things they can highlight to your potential new employer. Also send them a copy of your CV.

Your source of references should be something to keep in mind, whether or not you are looking for a new role. Collect references as you go along – LinkedIn provides a perfect vehicle for this. Cultivate contacts and maintain them – not many people want to be called up out of the blue by someone they have not worked with in years and suddenly expected to provide a glowing reference.

And good manners are everything; if your referee has been contacted always follow up with a thank you.


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