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“Self-praise is no recommendation” - The value of a good reference

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Leanne Ganley

You wrote a great CV, you searched for the ideal job, you have taken two days off work, probably spending money on attending interviews, all because this is the job you really want.

So how can you take control and improve your chance of success by over 300%?

Quite simple: The best way to predict the future is to look at the past and if you have at least two great references who can say how good that history has been, you will have the winning advantage.

What makes a reference so powerful is that it isn’t you saying how good you are, but somebody else. "Self-praise is no recommendation!"

Picture this: The interviewer is sat there thinking you are very plausible and has no reason to believe that you are not being genuine, but what really confirms this positive bias in your favour is when you say “but don’t simply take my word for it, this is what my previous employer considered important enough to put down on paper.” Hand them your reference letter and offer to set up a phone call where they can speak to your previous employer, who can endorse you further. Don’t forget to shut up and let them read it for themselves.

You may be thinking, this is all well and good but you haven’t collected these references yet, or perhaps your previous and current employers don’t provide them.

Here are 5 simple tips to collect powerful data to endorse your expertise:

  • Upon leaving any job, make sure it is on the best possible terms, advise your boss that you have learned a lot from them, that this opportunity is too good not to take and that you would like to remain in touch. Watch our video "How to resign" for more helpful tips on leaving your current employer with grace. At this moment, ask for one last piece of help from them, would they please write a reference on letter headed paper and if necessary, would they mind being contacted in the future by telephone to discuss your employment if requested to do so?

  • Perhaps you have left it too late to build your collection of references and perhaps your previous manager has moved on. This is where the value of social media and particularly LinkedIn can come to your rescue. Today it is far easier to track old colleagues down than ever before and LinkedIn even has a section on your profile for people to write you a recommendation. By actively canvassing former bosses and close colleagues, you can build a strong case to support your claims, which you can either print out and take with you to your interview, or suggest the interviewer views online. In addition you can receive endorsements for specific skills that appear as a graph on your LinkedIn page which can look quite impressive if you obtain enough of them.

  • If your former employer has a policy of not giving references, we suggest you ask close and preferably senior colleagues to agree to being your personal reference, this way the company policy is not compromised but your future employer has the confidence that they have spoken to someone who knows you well and the connection was originally in a professional capacity.

  • Present the contact information for your references on a neat sheet of paper and always make sure that you have spoken to them beforehand. This is to check it is still acceptable for them to be contacted and gives you the opportunity explain to them the type of role it is and why you feel suited to it, which they will hopefully support when contacted.

  • Out of courtesy, always thank your references afterwards, it means they will be happy to support you again in the future and shows great manners (something else my mother always drilled into me!)

Playing your trump cards:

Knowing when to use your reference can also have a great impact on your chances of getting a job. Here are the 3 occasions when references can have the greatest impact on improving your chances of success:

  • Keep your powder dry. If your CV is going to be good enough to get you an interview, watch our video for more tips on writing a winning CV, keep your reference in reserve to show at a later stage in the process. This ensures that you are continuously building your case for employment, rather than one big explosion of information at the start, much of which will get overlooked in the confusion.

  • If your interviewer was left with some reservations after your first interview, attempt to understand these and use your referees to ease any fears. For example, an interviewer once said “I really think Mike can do the job, but I am concerned that he has worked for such a big company beforehand”. Mike’s referee was contacted after first interview, who when asked to discuss this point said “Although we were part of a large international group, our company was very stand alone, particularly Mike’s department which was based at the far end of the site, it operated much like a small company with one large customer”. Mike got a second interview and he got the job. The act of getting such a reference not only allayed any concerns but also put Mike’s positive attributes into focus and provided him with more air time with the employing company.

  • At the end of an interview, especially your second interview (see our video on how to prepare for a second interview), always ask your interviewer if they have all the information they need to make their decision and give them your references at this stage. Leave any hard copies with them, have screen prints of your LinkedIn profile and recommendations to leave them in addition to your list of contacts you invite them to call, inform your interviewer that all references have been advised to expect a call, which will encourage them to do so and this once again shows great preparation and forethought by you.

Related post: 8 steps to follow for a professional resignation