Five Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette

It makes good business sense – and is respectful professional etiquette – to stay in touch with your former bosses, says Allison & Taylor, the nation’s oldest professional reference checking firm.

Given the ongoing upheaval in the nation’s job market, your efforts to stay connected with past employers could pay dividends many times over when they provide you with favorable professional references.

“If you were planning to hire someone, and his or her former boss did not return your call looking for a professional reference, what message would that convey?” said Managing Director Heidi Allison. “In today’s highly competitive job market, people pay so much attention to their resumes and interview skills, but unfortunately, many fail to nurture their professional references and they can make or break a successful job search.”

To enhance the chances of always landing the next job one wants, Allison suggests job seekers of all professional backgrounds follow these Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette:

  1. Call your former bosses and ask them if they are willing to be good job reference for you. Be sure to thank them for supporting you in your job search if they agree.
  1. Let them know each and every time you give out their name and email address.
  1. Keep your former positive references informed of your experiences in climbing the corporate ladder and your educational progress. Give them a career update. He/she will be more inclined to see you in a stronger light as you progress.
  1. Spending time with a potential employer is taking valuable time out of your former bosses’ days. If you plan to use these positive references over the years, you need to give something back. For instance, after receiving a good job reference, write a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) send an email. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card for Starbucks, or offer to take your former boss to lunch/dinner.
  1. If you win the new position, call or email your former boss and thank them again for the positive references. Also, let them know your new contact information.

Allison says the most important rule for job seekers is to never leave your professional references to chance.

“If you are not 100 percent convinced that your professional references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to prospective employers, have them checked out,” Allison said. “A professional reference-checking firm can either put your mind at ease, or supply you with the critical information and evidence that may be blocking your job search efforts.”

So, what happens if a professional reference is indeed providing unfavorable or inaccurate information on a candidate to a prospective employer? Allison says there are careful steps that can be taken to rectify the situation.

“Our firm hears poor to bad references on a daily basis,” she said. “Some are justified, others not. We work with clients to explore the options available to them to assure their professional references portray them in the best light possible. The key is to first know what people are saying about them and then proactively addressing the situation as necessary.”

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