Prepare Your References

Prepare Your References

You have a top notch resume, you’ve aced the interview, and now they’ve asked for your references. Not a problem! You hand them your previously prepared list with the pertinent information for your best references. A typical list includes three business and two personal references, but, depending on the company, it could be any combination.

Now you sit back and wait for the job offer, right? Whoa, it’s not time to sit on your laurels yet!

You need to prepare your references at least as well as you prepared for your interview. What does that mean? Here are some tips for preparing your references to represent you well.

The first bit of advice you give your references is this: be honest but brief in answering questions. Tell them that volunteering information, however helpful they think it may be, is a bad idea. More than telling them, actively discourage them!

Here are some examples that may not be received well by a prospective employer.

Your preference shares a personal quality with the caller by saying that you are a great mother (grandmother) and love spending quality time with your children (grandchildren), especially right when they get home from school. An innocent comment, right?

But what if the job they have in mind is a 9-5 job? You won’t be there when the children get home. What effect will that have on your job performance? Has your reference innocently planted a doubt in your new employer’s mind?

Your reference shares that you are a cancer survivor; what a great experience! But what if the employer’s representative has an experience where her friend had a relapse and died. Now she has mixed emotions about your candidacy! Tell them not to share that wonderful news with the potential employer! There must be something else you could suggest they use as an example.

Your previous co-worker shares that you worked lots of overtime to get your job done, thinking he is sharing that you are a hard worker. What if what the new employer hears is that you cannot get your job done in a regular day? You may want to suggest some specific and measurable achievements you would like your references to use.

Here are some typical questions asked of references and suggestions for preparing your references to answer them.

  1. Tell me a little bit about John (insert your name here!).

The best response is for your reference to try to hit on two or three of your most relevant qualities for the position at hand. Help your references understand you; maybe even talk about your good qualities ahead of time. If they’ve heard it, they are more likely to repeat it!

  1. What are John’s strengths?

You want your reference to be specific when answering; give an example with metrics. Help your references know your achievements; give them some examples. Every job has its own requirements; be sure to re-brief every time you use that reference.

  1. What are John’s weaknesses?

Everybody has weaknesses! Tell your references to be honest. But this should be their briefest answer! Again, give them some examples.

  1. Why did John leave the company?

Was it within your control? No need to sugarcoat the answer. Laid off, downsizing, reduction-in-force, etc. are all good answers. If you were fired for cause, perhaps your reference could give an extenuating circumstance. If you were fired for being late too often, what did you learn from that? Do your references know you well enough to address that?

  1. Would you hire John again?

Easy answer! If your previous employer’s budget allowed it, and the position was open and all other parameters made the hiring plausible, would they choose you for their company again? Help your reference say yes!

If the answer is really that you were not a good fit, have them say that in a pleasing way. For example, you are now looking for an opportunity where you are a good fit, could be part of that answer.