The Importance of Managing References

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, October 2019

References play a very important part in the job search process. These are individuals who will recommend you to a potential employer. Typically, employers will ask for the names of three people they can contact to discuss your previous or current employment, a college internship or other relevant activities.

My client Greg assured me that he had three references. But he did not ask their permission. This is a big mistake! What if someone is not comfortable recommending him for a position? This could result in a lost a job offer. Being caught by surprise might result in a person mentioning skills or experience that are not relevant to the job Greg is seeking now.

When an employer asks for references it means that you are a serious candidate. The employer wants to verify information about your background and experience. A reference may be asked about your job performance, character, or how you handled certain situations. An employer can also confirm who you reported to and whether you were responsible for certain duties.

References serve a different purpose than the human resources department. A human resources representative can verify your dates of employment, salary, job title, and reason for leaving if you no longer work for the company. However, they cannot describe the quality of your work or specific contributions that you made.

Good choices for references are: a former supervisor, former or current co-workers, a mentor, your internship supervisor, a professor or sports coach (if you are a recent graduate), someone you volunteer with, or someone you know through a business activity (such as a fellow member of a professional association).

Poor choices are: family members, personal friends, medical or other personal service providers, and people from your distant past (such as a high school teacher you haven’t spoken to in 20 years).

Call or email each potential reference individually to ask their permission. If they agree, verify the telephone numbers and email addresses an employer should use.

Let the individual know when you give their name to an employer, and arrange to speak with your reference before the employer does. You want to prepare him or her with details about the primary responsibilities, aspects of your background that they should emphasize, and how they can address any concerns the employer may have.

It is important to speak with references after they have been in touch with the employer. Find out what questions were asked, and how the individual responded. If an employer raised a concern, you now have an opportunity to address it. For example, you might say, “Tom Madison, one of my references, mentioned that you are concerned about my ability to create forecasts. I want to assure you that…”

It is considered a professional courtesy to let your references who spoke with an employer know the outcome, even if you don’t get the job. Thank them for their time and effort, too. People will be more willing to assist you in the future if you express gratitude.

Copyright 2019, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching