Stuck in a Career Rut? Allow us to point you in the "Wright" Career Direction

What You Need to Know About Job References – Part III

yes-238381_1280_DaisyWright

This is the final of the three-part series on Job References. The first part of this article looks at how to handle negative references, and the latter part contains a list of 18 questions that job references could be asked by potential employers.

How to Handle Negative Job References

Most employers know that people are not perfect and that work relationships sour. However, if something had happened at any of your jobs that could potentially put you in a bad light, you should be ready, if asked, to explain the highs and lows in each of those positions. This is not the time to badmouth the boss, ex-boss or anyone else. If the relationship was not all that great, say so, but frame it in a way that’s open and honest. Here is a suggestion:

“I am not sure what George at The Widget Company would say about me at this point since he wasn’t too happy when I resigned. After three years in the department, I was bypassed for a promotion and asked to train the new hire. I decided it was time to explore other opportunities and so I left for the position with ABC Company. That position represented not only a hike in salary, but the responsibilities were exactly what I was looking for. As you can see, I excelled in that role and was promoted within 12 months of joining the company.”

If you are willing to be transparent and authentic, and discuss the situation candidly while focusing on lessons learned, you could end up being a better reference for yourself than anyone else could.

Questions Your References May be Asked

In an article in the Globe and Mail, a job seeker asked, Why are references even required in this day and age when information about a candidate’s job history and accomplishments can be found online…?” Great question, but as mentioned in the earlier series, it is very costly to make the wrong hire. Therefore, employers look for honest answers, not only during the interview but when they contact your job references. Make sure your references are prepared in advance.

The following questions represent a sample of what your references may be asked. While there are no guarantees, knowing what these questions are ahead of time will put you in a better position to advise your references on what they may be asked:

  1. Can you verify candidates date of employment, title, dates and role?
  2. Is the candidate eligible for rehire? Why or Why Not?
  3. Did the candidate go above and beyond what was required?
  4. What are their strong points? Areas for improvement?
  5. Is there anything else you can add about the candidate, or that I should consider before we hire?
  6. What was she like to work with?
  7. How did she handle conflict?
  8. To what extent was she perceived to be a team player?
  9. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the candidate?
  10. Describe the candidate’s day-to-day responsibilities on the job
  11. What kind of situation would you not hesitate to put the candidate in? What kind of situation would give you pause?
  12. Provide an example of how the candidate raises the bar for herself and for those around her.
  13. If you could create the perfect work environment for the candidate, what would it look like?
  14. What kind of development plan was communicated to the candidate and how did he respond?
  15. How would you describe his interpersonal skills?
  16. What would you say motivated her most?
  17. Why did the candidate leave?
  18. Could the candidate have stayed if he had wanted to?

While your job references will not be asked all of the above questions, it is important that you, the job candidate, familiarize yourself with them and share them with your job references. The answers they give could be what stands between you landing the job or being bypassed.

A final thought on references: When asking someone to act as a reference, pay attention to their response. If they were slow to respond, or appeared lukewarm, this could be a warning sign. Select someone else. It’s better to have someone who is enthusiastic about speaking on your behalf than someone whose lack of enthusiasm could land you at the bottom of the list for consideration.

Do You Know What Employers Think of Your References? (Part II)

references clipboard check mark illustration design graphic background

As mentioned in Part I of this series, reference checking forms a crucial part of the hiring process. If you are a candidate who is being seriously considered for a position, your potential employer is going to need performance verification from people with whom you have worked. A Monster.com article titled What Employers Want From Job References, states: “It’s common for employers to seek out additional references for new hires — either online or through their own networks.”  They want to make sure you are who you say you are on paper, that you are going to be able to do the job, and that you will be a good fit for their team.

The norm is to ask for names and contact details of at least three individuals who can vouch for you. But not every employer relies 100% on candidate-supplied references. One reason for this is that many employers believe the job references practice is flawed because candidates tend to provide the names of people who will say good things about them. They view these references as  “candidate-supplied super fans”, according to Deborah Aarts, Senior Editor at Profit Magazine. “Candidate-supplied references are usually nothing more than glowing reviews”, she said.

I differ somewhat with this assumption, as the point of selecting references is to get someone who will attest to your background and capabilities. Someone who will, in fact, give you a glowing review. That said, I understand the point of the argument. While these ‘super fans’ may offer some flattering comments about you, employers also want to get a well-rounded perspective on you.

So, what do they do? They turn to other reference sources. These sources include LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. These are ready-made sources where they can gather reference information on the candidate they are considering hiring, as well as on the job references provided. And, because such information is in the public domain, employers and recruiters do not need anybody’s permission to do conduct their due diligence.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that social media is the other job reference source that employers will use to conduct checks. Since that’s the case, your first task is to review your own online brand to see what will show up when someone searches for you. Is your profile consistent with the professional image you want to  portray? Is there someone else with the same name as yours? How is he or she depicted? Is there anything negative that could easily be attributed to you? If so, you need to address it quickly, not only with your potential employer but also with your job references. You don’t want them to discover anything that has nothing to do with you, then make a wrong assumption or cast any doubts about you.

Your second task is to review the online profiles of people you are considering asking to act as your reference. Check their LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other online profiles to see what shows up. Are they portrayed in a good light? You need to make sure that neither you nor your references are displaying behaviour online that could indirectly damage your brand and your chances of getting a job.

The final of the series – Part III – will look at some of the questions employers ask when they contact your job references.

What You Need to Know About Job References – Part I

Job References_WCS

Most job seekers spend a lot of time on their resumes. A smaller number spend some time preparing for interviews, but not very many give the job reference process the priority it deserves. In fact, many treat it as the easiest part of the job search. That shouldn’t be.

It is customary for employers to conduct reference and background checks on candidates they are planning to hire. Studies have shown that 80% of employers conduct reference checks, and this is because they need to validate the accuracy of the resume and whatever other information the candidate provided. The process is critical to successful hiring and is necessary to ensure that employers have full information on potential employees. A bad hiring decision can prove very costly, and employers want to avoid this.

Start Early

It’s never too early to start building your reference list and engaging your references. Gather a list of names and review the list carefully. Think of people with whom you work, including your direct reports. Individuals who are able to tell stories of your capabilities and accomplishments, and who will leave the best impression.

Avoid individuals who might come across as overly dramatic. Such individuals can discourage the recruiter or hiring manager, or lead them to ask more questions. Do not use family members, friends, or anyone you know would not present you well, including anyone who fired you. Ideally, the references selected should be professionals you know through business, non-profit organizations, your place of worship, or professional associations.

Meet With Your References

Set up a time to meet in person with your references, if possible. They will feel more invested in your success. Provide a copy of your current resume and the job posting. It allows them to have the same information as the employer. Help them remember exactly what you did together. Ask them how they want to be contacted by employers and ensure you have their up-to-date contact information.

Give Adequate Notice

Give your references at least a day’s notice so they are prepared. The more notice they have, the better prepared they will be to speak on your behalf. Provide them with details of what the job entails; who might be calling; what skill-sets are required in the new job, and any specific project you want them to highlight. If they are not notified in advance of the call, they might not be prepared and may come off as uninformed. Such an interaction could reflect poorly on you.

Prepare a Customized Reference Sheet

Separate yourself from the pack and create a Reference Sheet. Ditch the usual sheet that lists name, contact number, and email address. Prepare a customized version that includes attributes that your references can attest to on your behalf. Provide some insights of your knowledge, skills and abilities that connect with the job for which you are applying. Share this document with your references so they will know how they are being presented to the recruiter or hiring manager, and what to focus on during the call.

Follow Up With Your References (after the Interview)

Give your references an idea of how the interview went and what things were highlighted during the discussion. This will help them respond well when they are called, and mention things that are relevant.

If your job search is taking longer than the norm, schedule a meeting or a telephone call to tell them how things are going, and to ask them questions. Ask who reached out to them, and if any of the questions were challenging for them to answer. This will give them an opportunity to talk things through with you and prepare you for future reference discussions.

Don’t Smother Your References

Some candidates might find themselves applying for numerous positions or going to several interviews, especially if the search is long. In such cases, have more than three individuals from whom to choose, and be selective in how you use them. You don’t want to overuse any of your references to the point where it becomes annoying for them.

Keep in Contact and Express Gratitude

It is important that you keep your references up-to-date with your progress. In fact, as often as you update your resume you should review and connect with your references. Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to support you. This is a good way to show how you value them and it will help them to remember you in a most positive way in the future. As Marty Britton, of reference-checking firm, Britton Management, says, “Always thank your references, especially if you got the job. A handwritten note goes further than an email.”

This article is the first of a three-part series on Job References. It includes information from my book Tell Stories, Get Hired, as well as from notes taken during a webinar presented by Manpower Group in 2015.

Why Your References’ Rave Reviews May Be a Waste of Time

Reference_1
 
Your impressive resume got you the interview. You built a good rapport with the panel and you are feeling confident that you might get the job. Just as you are getting ready to pull out your reference list in case you are asked for it, someone asks you to explain your relationship with your bosses and colleagues at each of your past workplaces.”  Wow! That’s a curve ball you were not expecting. Suddenly it seems that all that effort of prepping your references was a waste of time.

Some employers believe that this common practice of relying on “candidate-supplied super fans” is not objective and could be a waste of time. Deborah Aarts, senior editor at Profit Magazine wrote recently that “Candidate-supplied references are usually nothing more than glowing reviews”, and she has found other people who agree with her. The chairman of an executive search firm, as well as a small business owner, agree that the practice is flawed because “Candidates are only going to give you people who’ll say good things about them.  Well, one would imagine that that’s the point of having references!

While some may see reference checking as a waste of time, it is not going away. Employers still need performance verification from people with whom a candidate has worked. They want to make sure that the candidate can do the job, will do the job and will fit in with the company’s culture. Reference checking is a combination of asking the right questions of the candidate and the references, and administering appropriate assessments. This should help to determine if the candidate will be a good fit. The majority of times the process works, so it wouldn’t amount to being a waste of time.

The candidate also has a job to do. He or she should be ready to explain the highs and lows in each position, if and when asked. This is not the time to badmouth the boss (or ex-boss) or anyone else. If the relationship was not all that great, say so, but frame it in a way that’s open and honest. Something like:

I am not sure what George at Widget Inc. would say about me at this point since he wasn’t too happy when I resigned.  After three years in the department, I was bypassed for a promotion and asked to train the new hire. I decided it was time to explore other opportunities, and so I left for the position with ABC Company. That position represented not only a hike in salary, but the title and responsibilities were exactly what I was looking for. As you can see, I excelled in that role and was promoted within 12 months of joining the company.”

Most employers know that people are not perfect and that work relationships sour.  However, if a candidate is willing to be transparent and authentic and discuss the situation candidly, while focusing on lessons learned, they could end up being a better reference for themselves than anyone else could.

What are your thoughts? Is referencing checking really a waste of time?

 

Robo Reference Checking is a Reality

From time to time we hear of robo calls when politicians send out mass messages to their constituents to get their attention, but these activities are not limited to politics. Don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself having to make a robo call to a robo cop to check if robo reference checking is legal. Well, am injecting a bit of humour here, but automatic reference checking is a reality, and might just be coming to a job search near you.

Automatic reference checking tools allow companies to obtain more and better feedback from references. One such tool is Pre-Hire 360, which according to a white paper from the developer, SkillsSurvey Inc., it “moves beyond unimaginative, close-ended questions that many candidates have prepared for, and it moves beyond simplistic verification (yes/no) of prior employment”.

How does it work? A job seeker’s references are asked to complete an online survey rating the person’s skills, anonymously. This survey consists of 25 questions. It takes approximately 10 minutes and can be done at any time. Once all references have responded, the tool aggregates their ratings into a report.

The tool delves into the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as identified by their managers and co-workers and accelerates one’s ability to uncover the true nature of a candidate’s performance at work. It operates on the premise that “candidates are likely to embellish their past accomplishments, and are not likely to tell you about situations at work that did not turn out so well for them.”

At surface level, this sounds like a great idea. It would work quite well for references who are at a distance and easier to reach by email. And, as some users have indicated, it gets a 360-degree view of candidates from their peers and customers and strengthens a company’s talent pool; it increases the calibre of hires, and offers less staff turnover. However, when some users make statements like “…references tend to be brutally frank about their colleagues …and they don’t have to worry about information getting back to the candidate” or “Sometimes the candidates don’t even realize that their references are ruling them out”, then it starts to look sinister, in my opinion. So, while it might be ideal from a company’s perspective, job seekers should be concerned, or at least, be aware.

Another part of the process is that candidates who pass a telephone interview must immediately provide a minimum of five references before the next stage of the interview. Two of these references must be past or present managers. What if this candidate is conducting a confidential job search,and what happens if they do not have five names to offer as references?

For legal reasons, companies usually provide dates of employment and job titles, but the anonymity built into the tool allows references to provide more than the customary confirmation. A candidate without any character flaws wouldn’t have to worry about someone digging deeper, but what if a candidate has a minor flaw, or what if he or she had some issues with a manager, and this manager decides to be spiteful? These are ‘what ifs’ scenarios, but they can happen. Although the process is anonymous, employers could be opening up themselves to some legal push backs.

What can job seekers do to prepare themselves?

  • Become  aware of this trend, and make sure to choose references wisely – individuals who are eager to vouch for their character, skills and work ethic.
  • Inform references that a confirmation request could come through email in the form of a short survey instead of the standard referencing process.
  • Confirm with the individuals that they are comfortable acting as references, and if there are any issues that could surface, have a frank discussion ahead of time.
  • Prior to the interview, advise references which company or companies they might expect to hear from so they are not surprised.
  • Send references an updated resume, and highlight areas of your skills and accomplishments that they should address during the reference checking process

I think such a tool works well for companies as it cuts down on telephone tags and reduces costs, but it has drawbacks. Confidentiality and anonymity are two of them. Share your thoughts.

*Image courtesy of clipartillustration.com

 

Napoleon Hill – The Great Résumé Writer

Famed author, Napoleon Hill is best known for his extraordinary book, Think and Grow Rich, but did you know he was also a professional résumé writer? I made the discovery recently as I was leafing through his famous book for the umpteenth time! But, instead of calling the document a résumé or CV, he termed it a “Brief”.

So confident was he about his ability and the effectiveness of his ‘brief’, that he unequivocally stated, “The information described here is the net result of many years of experience during which thousands of men and women were helped to market their services effectively. It can, therefore, be relied upon as sound and practical.” Wow! How bold, Mr. Hill!

For those who believe they can prepare their résumés in a hurry, or that it doesn’t take much effort to develop an effective résumé, or it’s just a typing job, read Mr. Hill’s thoughts on that:

“This brief should be prepared as carefully as a lawyer would prepare the brief of a case to be tried in court. Unless the applicant is experienced in the preparation of such briefs, an expert should be consulted, and his services enlisted for this purpose. Successful merchants employ men and women who understand the art and the psychology of advertising to present the merits of their merchandise. One who has personal services for sale should do the same.”

Mr. Hill implied here that if one does not have the experience in preparing their own ‘briefs’, “an expert should be consulted and his services enlisted for this purpose.”  “Hello dear reader, are you still with me?”

While career coaches and professional résumé writers prefer to use the top third of the résumé – referred to as ‘prime real estate’ – to summarize the client’s brand and personal statements which capture attention, we might cut Mr. Hill some slack for starting the ‘brief’ with Education, as in:

“State briefly, but definitely, what schooling you have had, and in what subjects you specialized in school, giving the reasons for that specialization.”

That was what was common in his day.

He then continued: “If you have had experience in connection with positions similar to the one you seek, describe it fully, [and] state names and addresses of former employers. Be sure to bring out clearly any special experience you may have had which would equip you to fill the position you seek.”

This statement is significant. He implies here that it is not necessary to include all one’s experiences, because, in fact, that would take several pages for some of us. We should dissect the job posting then select and use only the experiences that relate to the employer’s requirements.

On the subject of references, Mr. Hill said, “Practically every business firm desires to know all about the previous records, antecedents, etc., of prospective employees who seek positions of responsibility. Attach to your brief photostatic copies of letters from:

  • Former employers
  • Teachers under whom you studied
  • Prominent people whose judgement may be relied upon.
  • Photograph of self. Attach to your brief a recent, unmounted photograph of yourself.”

Well, way back in 1937 when the book was written, it was customary to provide all of the above, but these days job seekers are advised to make sure they have their reference list ready, but rather than attaching it to the résumé, they should wait until they are asked for it. Of course, attaching a photograph to one’s résumé is not normally done, but with the availability of social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google +, it’s difficult for job seekers to hide. Testimonials and LinkedIn recommendations also play a role in the modern reference process.

Mr. Hill also believed, like career service professionals do, that the résumé should be focused. Too many times I am asked by some job seekers to develop a generic one-size-fits-all résumé. Here’s what Mr. Hill said about this:

“Apply for a specific position. Avoid application for a position without describing EXACTLY what particular position you seek. Never apply for ‘just a position.’ That indicates you lack specialized qualifications. State your qualifications for the particular position for which you apply. Give full details as to the reason you believe you are qualified for the particular position you seek.” 

Mr. Hill also wrote about having a neat and professional résumé. He said, “Remember another thing; neatness in the preparation of your brief will indicate that you are a painstaking person.” One of the unwritten rules of résumé writing is that it must be free from grammar and spelling errors and it must be pleasing to the eye. No different from what Napoleon Hill stated so many years ago.

Finally, and this is where I draw my conclusion that the man was a professional résumé writer. He said, “I have helped to prepare briefs for clients which were so striking and out of the ordinary that they resulted in the employment of the applicant without a personal interview.”

The briefs that he prepared “were so striking and out of the ordinary…” They stood out; they were not created from templates and they were not generic. In other words, they were customized and reflected the job seeker’s personal brand! Résumé writers, career coaches and Napoleon Hill are on the same page when it comes to résumé creation. We painstakingly apply proven strategies that position our clients for job search success!

What are your thoughts? Was Napoleon Hill a professional résumé writer? Have your say.

 

 

When a Résumé Looks too Good to be True…

…It probably is! Some time ago I wrote an article titled “Lying on Resumes Alarmingly Common”, where I referenced a newspaper article with the heading “Official Résumé Wrong”! Fast forward to 2011, and it appears the topic of ‘lying on résumés’ has reared it’s head again. As a matter of fact, one month ago, I was reviewing the résumé of a young man and when I questioned him about his most recent experience, he admitted he had fabricated it because “others were doing it.” As a career coach and professional résumé writer, I owe it to my clients and myself to make sure that the information is correct.

Officeteam recently conducted a survey and it reveals, once again, that most job seekers stretch the truth on their résumés, particularly when it comes to their job duties and education. The job market may be tough right now, but job seekers should refrain from embellishing their résumés as they will be found out, sooner or later.

Here are some tips that Officeteam has offered to employers on how they can verify information on résumés. Job seekers should take note:

1. Watch for ambiguity. When reviewing resumes, question vague descriptions of skills (e.g., “familiar with,” “involved in”) which may be signs that a professional is trying to hide a lack of relevant work experience.
2. Ask once, ask twice. Pose interview questions that relate to specific skills needed. For example, if a candidate must know a particular software program, ask how he or she has used the technology in previous roles. If an applicant’s response is ambiguous, don’t be afraid to rephrase the question.
3. Get the facts. Ask references to confirm basic information such as the candidate’s employment history, job titles, responsibilities and salary. If they’re willing to talk further, delve into their thoughts on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, interpersonal skills, and ability to work on a team.
4. Branch out. Inquire if references know of others you can speak to about promising candidates. Also, tap your own network to find mutual acquaintances who might be able to shed light on the prospective hire’s background and character.
6.  Put them to the test. To get a true sense of a candidate’s abilities, consider hiring the person on a temporary basis before extending a full-time offer. This allows both parties to assess whether the position is a fit.

How about you? Do you embellish, or have you lied on your résumé? Do you know anyone who does? Add your voice here!

Source: Officeteam

Related post: Lying on Résumés Alarmingly Common