5 ways references can lose you a job
Without the right people to endorse your skills, work ethic, and experience, you could be jeopardizing your dream job.
Don't let a bad reference keep you from getting the job.
Sometimes the best resume, smartest cover letter, or even the strongest interview skills are not enough to persuade an employer to hire you. To get a job, you also need people who can sing your praises, people who can attest that you’re a star employee. Put simply: You need professional references.
Unfortunately, “references are often an afterthought for job seekers,” says Andrea Kay, a career consultant based in Cincinnati.
To ensure your references present you in the best light, avoid these common mistakes.
Professional reference list mistakes to avoid
- Not asking a person for permission to list them as a reference
- Asking the wrong people to be a reference
- Not preparing your references
- Assuming your reference will give you a great review
- Forgetting to thank your references
Mistake #1: Listing someone as a reference without asking the person for permission first
Asking if someone will be a reference for you might sound like a basic step, but Kay says you’d be surprised how many job seekers forget to do it.
“A lot of people just don’t ask for permission,” Kay says. “They just assume that the person is happy to do it.” Hence, you’ll want to touch base with references before providing their contact information to a prospective employer. It’s simply common courtesy.
Mistake #2: Asking the wrong people
No doubt your mom thinks you’re a superstar, and your BFF would have your back no matter what, but alas, you can’t use friends and family members as references. After all, you’re looking for people who can speak to not only your personality, but also your career skills and work ethic.
“You want someone who you worked for, someone you worked with, or someone who worked for you,” says Stefanie Wichansky, CEO at Randolph, New Jersey-based management consulting and staffing firm Professional Resource Partners.
Ideally, you wrangle all three for your reference list. “That would give an employer a good picture of how you are as a direct report, as a co-worker, and as a manager,” Wichansky says.
If you’re going to use a previous boss as a reference, though, first check to see whether the person is allowed to talk about your job performance. “A lot of companies have strict policies that only let managers confirm a past employee’s job title and dates of employment,” says Jeff Shane, president at Allison & Taylor, a professional background screening firm based in Rochester, Michigan.
Mistake #3: Not preparing your references
Many hiring managers will let you know in advance when they’re going to contact your references. So, if possible, you should give your references a heads-up to let them know who will be contacting them, and supply them with an updated copy of your resume.
Pro tip: Share the job description with your references, so they can gain a good sense of the position you’re applying for.
Depending on how long it’s been since you held the job, you may have to refresh the person’s memory about specific projects you worked on or results you delivered that can be used as talking points.
Also, consider asking your references to speak to certain skills, such as leadership, reliability, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork. Recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that employers care more about these particular soft skills than they do technical abilities like reading comprehension or mathematics.
Mistake #4: Blindly assuming the person will give you a glowing review
Even though you think you were a great employee, your past manager may not feel the same way.
“Countless job seekers have been dismayed by the information that a former supervisor shares about them,” says Shane. “If an employer uncovers a negative reference, you may never hear from the company ever again.”
Therefore, if you’re even the slightest bit unsure of where you stand, ask your references ahead of time what they’re going to say about you. If they don’t plan on flattering you, take them off your references list and move on to the next person.
Mistake #5: Forgetting to send a thank-you letter
Your references are doing you a big favor. “They’re not only investing their time for you, but they’re also putting their own reputation on the line,” Kay says.
Take a few minutes to write them a thank-you email or handwritten letter. It’s a small gesture, but it can go a long way.
“If you want someone to be a good reference, you have to act like a mensch,” Kay says. “There’s no such thing as being too appreciative.”
Done with mistakes? Do this next
The job search doesn't have to trip you up at every turn—but there are a whole lot of turns to contend with. Need some help navigating the terrain? Join Monster today. As a member, you'll get career advice and job search tips emailed right to your inbox. From updating your resume to acing the interview to negotiating a salary, you'll have the knowledge you need to climb the ladder with confidence.
Asking for a letter of recommendation
Our recommendation? Read these tips and getting your next letter of recommendation will be a breeze.
Asking for a letter of recommendation? Try these tips.
Whether you’re looking for a new job, applying for admission to graduate school or vying for a scholarship, chances are you’re going up against competition—and plenty of it. You need to find a way to stand out. One way to do so is with a strong letter of recommendation.
Of course, the only way to get a letter is to ask for it—the prospect of which likely fills you with dread. What will she say? Will you annoy him with your request? Is there anything you can you offer in return? Worse, what if the boss you thought loved you secretly hated you?
It’s OK to feel nervous, but believe it or not, most people will be happy to write something on your behalf.
“With people who have worked with me in the past, if they ask me for a letter, I am more than willing to write them one,” says Peggy McKee, CEO of Dallas-based Career Confidential. “But If I was happy with them, I would like to do anything I could to help them going forward.”
See, it’s not that difficult! But if you’re still hesitant, use this approach to get the letter of recommendation that you need.
Just pop the question
Yes, it may sound simplistic, but the truth is the way to ask for a letter of recommendation is to ask.
“A lot of students feel anxiety asking for a letter of recommendation; what they should realize is that we get asked all of the time!” says Jessi Franko, an adjunct communications professor at Rider University and Mercer Community College in New Jersey. “They are definitely not the first person to ask and definitely not the last. I get asked to write recommendation letters for current students, former students and even colleagues at least twice a month.”
Rather than apologizing or beating around the bush, ask the question straightforwardly, noting the purpose for which you need the letter and the deadline.
You say: “I’m applying for an internship, and I need to include two letters of recommendation. Would you be willing to write one for me? I’d need it by the 20th."
Suggest some talking points
Don’t just ask, “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” Be sure to mention what information you’d like the letter to include.
“If somebody is trying to apply for a certain type of job, I would recommend that they try to ask that the reference letter includes specific examples of work that they had done in that field, or specific examples skills and abilities that they have that would be relevant to that field,” says Jill Saverine, senior vice president of human resources for Stamford, Connecticut-based Aircastle.
You say: “Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I was hoping you could mention the role I played in our big campaign and how my blog post helped increase our company’s site traffic.”
Be prepared to write the letter yourself
Let’s be honest, we’re all busy these days. Someone may be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, but feel crunched for time. If that happens, they might ask that you write the letter for them. This is OK. They’ve still offered to help you and you have your signed letter of recommendation. It’s a win-win!
Need help writing it? Use our sample recommendation letter template.
“Put together a few statements about what you’ve done, what you can do and some of the best things that you did while you worked there, maybe mention a particular story about something,” McKee says. “Send it to them, let them choose what they want to pick and keep and put their little signature at the bottom and you’re done!”
You say: “I know this is a busy time of year for you. If you don’t have time to write it, perhaps I could write something for you to review and if it looks all right, you could sign it?”
Once you have the letter, do this next
A strong recommendation letter is an excellent counterpart to your resume. But neither will do you any good just sitting on your computer. Want to put them to good use? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—all tailored to different jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Pull them in with the resume, and use your recommendation letter to seal the deal.