References – Your Personal Employment Health Report

During the recruiting process an employer is focused on making a good hiring decision. Their goal is to find a well-suited and highly qualified job candidate. This is not an easy decision. They have a small window of time and limited opportunity to learn about each job candidate.

What is taken into consideration when making the hiring decision includes everything learned from start to finish; otherwise said everything from application to interview and reference checking. Checking references is not simply a rubber stamp. It is an opportunity for the employer to learn about each job candidate, and it is also an opportunity for the job seeker, as more information can be shared with the prospective employer in a way that they themselves could not convey. An employer, after completing your reference checks, will have a pretty good picture of what type of employee you will make. The results pulled together make something of a personal employment health report. Who are you? Where are you strong and weak? What if any risks do you pose?

Job candidates should know and assume that a prospective employer will do much more than simply confirm previous employment dates and title. This said job seekers should make an informed choice about who is included as references, ask permission and prepare their references, and present this information well when requested. This means job seekers should know if the review will be glowing, mediocre or negative. They should also know if the referee will be able to comment on past performance, work ethic, suitability for the position, skills,and character.

When selecting your references treat each one as an opportunity for someone else to communicate why you are the exact person to hire. There are two basic types of references: character and professional. For paid employment opportunities, professional references are preferable because these referees are better able to comment about you in a work environment. An employer will also generally have more confidence in professional references (and greater confidence in a supervisor rather than colleague). Providing a character reference may be required if you have little-to-no job history, cannot find an otherwise adequate solution to a negative professional reference, or simply because the character reference is the best person to comment given the position sought. For example, maybe you have applied for a job that relates to your volunteer work. Character references should not include relatives or a social friend.

When asking for permission use questions that are specific and give the referee a way out such as “are you available to provide a positive reference?” Treat it more than a rubber stamp yes/no conversation. This can help reduce instances of having a negative reference and prevents having a reference that can’t be reached. It also gives the referee the ability and time to prepare. Explain what job you’ve applied for and what skills are required. Asking permission is also a great way to keep your network up to date, ready to support you in achieving your goals.

As stated, the ideal referee will speak of you positively and was your supervisor in a recent work environment. If you do not have three of these, then begin to span out or address the problem directly. The prospect of a negative reference can feel insurmountable, but it is better to know and be proactive. There are a number of strategies to overcome this barrier ranging from choosing a different reference to reaching a mutually agreeable solution with the negative referee. This can be a delicate matter and your local employment centre is happy to help you brainstorm through your options.

Last, prepare your reference sheet with the same care as your resumé and make sure your contact information is listed. Include the full name, phone number and email of each referee. As well, provide context on how they know you: for example, “Former Supervisor at ABC Business.” Provide this sheet when requested and follow up regardless of outcome to say thank you. This is important since your references are a big part of your employment success. Related, when leaving a job (or getting a supplementary job), talk to your supervisor about the prospect of them acting as a reference.