The 5 Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette

Reference check

In the past two weeks, I have served as a reference for six job candidates. I gave enthusiastic references for five of them, but I had to take a pass on the sixth person since I hadn’t heard from him in nearly 20 years. I recall that he was a good employee, but it has been way too long since we worked together so it was impossible for me to vouch for his current capabilities and performance.

It also had been many years since I worked with two of the other candidates, but they have remained in touch via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and an occasional career update email. While I thought this Reference Check Don’t eventually might make a good blog post, fate made it even easier when I got a timely email from the folks at Allison & Taylor, the nation’s oldest professional reference checking firm. As you might expect, they confirm my adamant point of view that you can’t simply turn your professional networks on and off as needed.

“As your career advances, your efforts to stay connected with past employers could pay dividends many times over when they provide you with favorable professional references,” says Jeff Shane of Allison & Taylor.  “Conversely, failing to maintain a solid relationship with your references could have long-reaching professional consequences.

“Oftentimes, job seekers pay close attention to their resumes and interview skills, but fail to nurture their professional references…and a personal commentary can make or break a successful job search.”

To enhance the chances Jeff suggests you follow these 5 Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette:

  1. Call your former bosses and ask them if they are willing to be good job references for you. Be sure to thank them for supporting you in your job search if they agree.
  2. Let them know each and every time you give out their name and email address.
  3. Keep your former positive references informed of your experiences in climbing the corporate ladder and your educational progress. Provide them with career updates. He/she will be more inclined to see you in a stronger light as you progress.
  4. Remember that spending time with a potential employer takes valuable time out of your former bosses’ day, so try to give something back. For instance, after receiving a good job reference, write a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) send an email. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card, or offer to take your former boss to lunch/dinner.
  5. If you win the new position, call or email your former boss and thank them again for the positive references. At the same time, you can provide your new professional contact information.

Additionally, it’s critical to be certain of the feedback from your professional references.  If you are not 100% convinced that your professional references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to prospective employers, have them checked out.  A professional reference check can either put your mind at ease, or supply you with the critical information and evidence that may be blocking your job search efforts.

Allison & Taylor estimates that 50% of their references come back as “lukewarm” or “negative”.  If a reference provides unfavorable or inaccurate information to a prospective employer, there are steps that can be taken to rectify the situation. You can take steps to prevent this continued spread of negative information, either through a Cease & Desist letter or through more aggressive legal recourse.

2 thoughts on “The 5 Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette

  1. Ron,
    Timely advice given this seems to be a period when interns are applying for summer jobs, people are looking to move, start a new job, etc., (I have received two referral requests in the past weeks as well.)

    Two additional points I would offer for those seeking recommendations:

    1. Give your references lead time and make it as easy for them to process as possible. Understand these are busy people and may not have time to drop everything on their plate to immediately respond to your request. Pre-fill questionnaires to the best of your ability, provide return address envelopes with postage, etc.,

    2. Overbudget your requests. (As a corollary to #1). I recently needed two references to enter an MBA program. Knowing the people I wanted to ask are extremely busy, I sent out four requests. Three were submitted – the fourth was on vacation and sent me their regrets.

    (And thanks Ron. I found out yesterday I was accepted into the program. I will gladly spring for Cubs tickets the next time I am in town…)

    Disclaimer – I am one of the six people mentioned above who recently asked Ron for a reference.

  2. Paul: I was definitely thinking of you as I wrote about former employees who “do it right” when it comes to staying in touch–even though it’s been more than 10 years since we last worked together. Congrats on being admitted to the MBA program. I look forward to that Cubs game.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *