A Reference on References

Should you put references on your resume?  No.  I think it’s premature in the process.  Wait until you’re in final rounds and then offer your references up in a separately typed sheet.  You should carry your references with you, ready to hand over at the asking, just like you should always have a hard-copy of your resume when interviewing.

It’s important to offer up  a diverse grouping when putting together a reference list.  I suggest listing five (5) with the hopes that your future boss can reach three (3) of them.  If I’m working on placing a salesperson in a particular job, I’ll typically ask him to give me the names of a former boss, someone he has managed, and a few clients.   If it’s an agency person, the same could hold true.

Always, always make sure to call your references beforehand and make sure it is kosher to put their names forth on your behalf.  If you can’t reach one of your proposed references, DO NOT give that name out.  And, whatever you do, don’t give a reference of someone you barely know.  

I had a situation about two years ago when I went into final negotiations in placing a candidate with a broadcast cable company.  My client asked for references and then proceeded to move forward with the check.  My candidate was applying for a hybrid marketing/sales job and had a strong marketing background but was weak on the sales side.  He sold his way thru the interview process, though, and convinced the hiring manager that he could do the job.  When she asked for references, including clients, he proceeded to give her two names of senior clients that he barely knew. (Apparently, he had met them once when he accompanied a salesperson on a call.)  When my client called these two references, they had no clue who she was talking about!  It was one of the most mind-boggling thing I had ever seen in this business.

When asked about his reasoning, my candidate stated that he felt like he had to have “a few marquis client names in his list” to make a good impression.   What he clearly did not anticipate was the fact that he was about to make a big ass out of himself!  He lost the job, he lost my respect (I’ve never called him again), and he really aggravated the hiring manager who was left at square one with her search.  Not cool.

One more thing on references.   The media industry is small.  Recruiters and companies doing the hiring often conduct blind reference checks.  If you worked at Golf Digest and I know Joe Schmo at Golf Digest, you can bet I’m going to call him and ask about you.   I once had a candidate tracking for a job nicely.  All of a sudden my client didn’t want to move forward.  When asked why, she said “I called someone I know from her former company and when I asked about the candidate, the review I received was bad.”  Corporate policy, many times, does not allow for employees to give any kind of references — good or bad — for fear of getting sued.  HOWEVER, this is not the case with all companies and  most of the time, if the candidate is good, when asked, a former-coworker  will emphatically say so.  If they are bad, they either clam up or tell it like it is.  There’s not much you can do in this case except make sure to be truthful when you are interviewing. If you left your last job on uncertain terms, be upfront about what happened, making sure to stay as positive along the way.  

Carpe diem…

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