Usually I focus my articles on resumes and cover letters but this time I’m expanding a bit to talk about references (that’s right people, I’m not a one hit wonder, I do it all!). This stems from a conversation I had recently with a friend. She received a phone call as a reference for someone that came as a complete surprise to her because this person had never let her know that she was being used as a reference. The person who sprung this on her? Her sister! Oh my, there are so very many things wrong with the situation I just described. Where to even begin? There are really two major faux pas here and I just can’t decide which is worse.
Let’s start with the fact that you should not use relatives as references. Anything a relative says as a reference may not be viewed as authentic because come on, is your sibling or parent really going to say anything bad about you? References should be professional contacts that can vouch for your abilities as a professional and paint an overall picture of what you would be like as an employee. References could be an employer, co-worker, network connection or business associate. It is also acceptable to use someone as a reference that falls outside of your professional circle. Maybe you volunteer at a local charity or sit on the board of an organization; individuals that know you in this capacity could also be used as a reference.
The second thing wrong with the above scenario is that you should always ask someone if they will be a reference for you. Never assume that someone will be your reference. Asking first is not only good manners but will allow someone to decline if they don’t feel that they would be an ideal reference. If someone does agree to be your reference fill them in on the details of the position and who may be calling them. This gives your reference a heads up and lets them prepare a few things they could talk about if they are called. If someone is surprised with a reference call they may appear flustered and uninformed and not be able to answer the questions as thoroughly as if they had been given time to organize some thoughts.
My friend tried to be very diplomatic when answering the potential employer’s questions. When asked how long she knew the candidate she said more than ten years. When asked if she had ever worked with the candidate she simply said no. She did not elaborate on any of her answers but said that if she had been asked if they were related she would have told the truth. I’m guessing that the employer was not very impressed with the outcome of the reference check and didn’t come away with anything that would give them a better idea of what kind of employee she would be. Rather they were probably left wondering why on earth she had chosen this person as a reference since she had nothing of value to say about the candidate.
When considering reference possibilities make sure to choose wisely since the person you select can have a considerable impact on an employer’s impression of you and influence the overall hiring decision.
by Megan Koehler