Getting an employment reference can be a little bit nerve-wracking, especially if you didn’t leave on the best of terms – or your current employer feels like you’ve left them in the lurch!
But they are necessary, I’m afraid, so make sure you follow these tips to ensure you get the very best you can!
1. Who Should Be Your Reference?
It should go without saying that your mate down the pub who swears you are a great bloke just is not going to cut it.
And the same goes for family, no employer wants to hear how lovely your mum thinks you are (believe it or not, I have genuinely received a reference from someone’s mum).
You should have at least two references in total (though they might ask for more).
And you really need to get at least one reference from someone you have actually worked with in a professional setting; a line manager who understands your skills and experience and someone who (hopefully) got on well with you.
If that’s not a possibility then the next best thing is some kind of educational reference, so perhaps a University lecturer or even college teacher.
Recruiter Pro Tip
If you can’t get a professional reference from your most recent manager, your recruiter is bound to ask why not because they’ll assume something untoward must have happened!
So be ready to answer why you can’t. Be as honest as you can be and DO NOT badmouth any previous employers or you’ll look like a bit of a trouble-maker.
You can also use character references, in necessary.
This would include people that know you well but have not worked with you.
Make sure whoever you pick is a professional themselves with a good reputation – and ideally in a senior position at their workplace.
2. Contact Your Reference
You never really know when in the hiring process a company will decide to ring up your reference (although if it is from your current workplace, they shouldn’t until they make an offer).
You want that reference to be ready to talk about how great you are!
So, especially if you haven’t worked with the person in a long time, it is worth dropping them a quick line and letting them know you’ll be using them as a reference.
It might be a little hard for them to sing your praises if they have a gun (or in this case, a phone) to their head. So contacting them directly will give them time to prepare.
NB: not all companies allow personal references to actually be given. In fact, a lot of the time they will offer a standard “yes they worked here” response. That’s fine and your recruiter should understand that, if it is their policy. However, they may also ask you for a different reference to replace it!
3. How Do You Contact the Reference?
Jerry has just started to look for jobs and needs references. Jerry sends out a mass email to every one of his previous employers.
Every email has the same content. Do not be like Jerry.
Look, if you want a good personalised response from everyone, send out personalised emails to each of them. Or, even call them!
With a call, you can better judge the tone of voice and assess if they are actually willing to be your reference.
If they sound excited or tell you they’d be honored to be your reference then you can rest assured, they will help you.
Calls are also much more personal, and you engage with them better. A little bit of friendly banter never hurt anyone.
Either way, don’t be Jerry, keep your message personal and your reference is much more likely to be!
4. Try and Work Out Whether They’re a Good Reference
References aren’t supposed to say anything bad about you… but they can refuse to give a reference.
Which, to many recruiters, is pretty much the same thing.
So, it’s a good idea to speak to those who are going to be contacted, just to make sure they don’t mind and that they’re still in a positive mind-frame about you!
To be honest, you’ll probably already know who you don’t want to ask, but it is worth checking in just in case!
You can even be a bit cheeky and let them know what kind of job you’re going for, so they can really big you up. (Don’t be too pushy though.)
5. Maintain the Network!
You’re probably going to need those references a few times over the years, so try to keep in touch with past employers, even just via social media!
If you can interact with them in any way, do (without going overboard) and they’ll remember you in the future for the right reasons.
6. Thank Everyone
Last, but certainly not the least. Thank everyone who helps you along the way.
Everyone is busy with what they are doing and to take out time to help you is a tremendous gesture.
You thanking them will show them that their time is being appreciated.
Keep them updated with how things turn out and keep them in the loop in every step.
Most of us will have to request a reference at some point in our careers and most people just assume that it will all go to plan, but that is not always the case.
It is true that employers aren’t supposed to give bad references, but it’ll look equally as bad if they refuse to give you one or only agree to give dates (unless that’s a company-wide policy).
Most importantly, remember to maintain a good relationship with all of the companies you work for! You don’t want to leave on a bad note, because you can bet your life they will remember!