Finding a job in the current economy is no easy feat, especially if your references are less than glowing.
The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service, recently surveyed 250 U.S. advertising and marketing executives, asking them to describe the most unusual reference checks.
The Creative Group offered these five tips for creating a solid reference list:
* Identify the biggest fans. Always ask permission before using someone as a reference. Pay attention to how quickly and enthusiastically people respond to the request. This “self-reference check” can help candidates identify the best options.
* Be ready to offer a few extras. When short-staffed, many hiring managers are pressured to move quickly, and if contacts are unavailable, candidates may miss out on the job offer. Consider providing more references than are requested.
* Make it easy on the employer. Provide clear contact information, including names, titles, daytime telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, for references along with a brief explanation of the nature of the relationship with each person. It’s also helpful to note the best times to reach each of the contacts.
* Give references a “heads up.” Each time candidates submit a reference list to a prospective employer, they should let their contacts know so they are well-prepared. Provide them with an updated copy of the resume, and describe the company and position applied for, as well as the name of the person who might be calling them.
* Express appreciation. Candidates should always thank those who agree to speak on their behalf -- even if they aren’t contacted by hiring managers. Also, keep them updated on the status of the job search.
Preparing references is as important as identifying them. Experts tell of some very negative responses that can hurt a job seeker. Among the responses:
* “Someone used her mother as a reference; needless to say, she had not worked anywhere with her mother.”
* “We learned from the reference that the woman we were interviewing liked to go barefoot all day.”
* “The reference said the prospective employee had difficulty getting to work on time.”
* “We talked to someone who said the applicant didn’t like the industry in which she was trying to get a job.”
“Job seekers need to do everything they can to line up outstanding references, especially in the current hiring environment,” said Megan Slabinski, executive director of The Creative Group.
“Even a subtle lack of enthusiasm on the part of a reference can work against job candidates. The best references aren’t necessarily the contacts with the most impressive job titles but those who can speak persuasively about an applicant’s merits,” she added.
The goal, of course, is for references to sing the applicant's praises, not the other way around, as these responses indicate:
* “I checked the reference, and the fellow just started laughing. He could not believe that he was a reference.”
* “The person said the candidate was hyper and off the wall.”
* “The reference said the candidate fell asleep during work hours.”
* “According to the reference, the candidate was very insistent on making his own schedule and rules.”
Some references were quick to point out a candidate’s unique qualities but may have chosen the wrong ones to emphasize. For example:
* “A reference told us the person had 17 pets that he’d need to transport.”
* “A professor recommended someone who was really smart, but mentioned that the person was never seen wearing anything but flip-flops.”
* “The reference went on about the candidate’s favorite music, bars, social endeavors, etc.”
Honesty is essential in the job hunt, a lesson some candidates learned the hard way. To wit:
* “The reference had never heard of the person.”
* “The candidate said she’d worked for a specific agency, and we found out that she didn’t.”
* “I was told that the candidate didn’t do the work he claimed to do during the interview.”
Slabinski added that while it’s useful for candidates to actively manage their references, employers often do their own research to learn more about applicants. “All former coworkers and managers could be tapped as references,” she said. “That’s why it’s wise to stay on good terms with past colleagues and supervisors. You never want to burn bridges.”