Do you know what your job references are really saying about you?


Don’t leave it to chance

Do you know what your references are saying? Have you informed them of your job search and provided them with the appropriate context? You just received a verbal offer, contingent upon reference checks. This is the final frontier, and there is no reason this step shouldn’t result in an offer letter. But it does. So many times we’ve lost count. This post is dedicated to making sure you finish strong and nail this last step. 

Most candidates leave this critical step to chance, with the mindset that once you send in your references to a potential employer, all you can do is pray that your references say good things. Here at Career Tracker, we aren’t going to leave anything to chance. We got you on this.

There are a number of things we can do to ensure that we are not leaving anything to chance. We are going to take this step to the edge and show you how we can instill confidence in our employer and our references.

We have presented our formatted list of 6+ candidates. Yes, 6 references. Even though the company asked for only 3, we are going to present 6. Read here to learn why we suggest 6 references.

Step 1

The first thing we want to do with our references is to notify them. We want to let them know we listed them as a reference. This is just common courtesy, but strangely this call doesn’t happen very often. 

We want to provide our reference with the following information:

  • We listed them as a reference (thank them profusely for agreeing to do it)
  • Share the specific position and the specific company
  • Let them know we are going to forward the job description

The way we are going to make this reference a slam-dunk is by asking them to reinforce the reasons we are being considered. Basically you just need to get on the same page and make sure they understand what you are bringing to the company, and why the company is into you. They need to support the things you’ve been saying to the company. This will corroborate your narrative and give the employer comfort that you are just as legit as you say you are. 

Key point: you may remember all of the great things you did while working with or for your reference, but they may not. You need to recall these things for them and feed them the ammo they need in preparation for the call with your potential employer.

  • “The company is looking for XYZ, can you make sure you let them know I can provide XYZ? Maybe tell them about ABC situation where I demonstrated XYZ when we worked together.”
  • “Overall it’s been a great interview process, but I get the sense the company may have some questions about my skills in XYZ area. Can you help me reinforce my skillset here, and provide them with ABC example of my expertise? Even better maybe share with them the time when I learned a similar skill very quickly?”

Side bar: Probably needless to say, but we’re going to say it anyway – do not ask your references to embellish or fib about your skill set. Not only will they not do it, they will lose respect for you and will definitely not want to provide a reference in the future. Worst case, we’ve even known of situations where the reference told the potential employer that the candidate asked them to lie! So yeah, that did not end well. 

Don’t feel like you’re being demanding

Our belief after many years is that most people are eager to help and feel helpful. Even if they sound busy or slightly put out, deep down, they feel good about themselves for helping you. But make sure you let them know that what they’re doing is extremely important, and don’t miss an opportunity to thank them profusely.

Your reference will be much more excited about this call if they have something specific to share and they are assigned a mission. Otherwise, they just go in blind and unsure of what to expect or say. Armed with the proper context and specific instances where you’ve demonstrated the skills your future employer is looking for, your reference should not have any problem giving the hiring company exactly what it needs to feel confident about you as a candidate. This call will eliminate any hesitations about your qualifications and give the hiring company confidence in you as a candidate.

Pro move: If you give the reference, say, a bottle of wine, write a short note on the side of the bottle in that metallic marker/ink that stays on glass. It’s a nice touch and gives your reference a great humble brag opportunity when they share your gift with their friends. “Oh, this? Just a little thank you from someone I helped with a job.” [cue applause and approbation]

Key takeaway: Give your references a heads up, share the job description, provide context, and feed them instances and examples of times when you demonstrated the skills and initiative your future employer is looking for.  This will ensure that your reference is prepared to paint you in the best light, and doesn’t hit any stumbling blocks along the way. 


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