Leveraging Job References to Boost Your Candidacy

By Steve Margalit, FPC

Many job seekers view the process of providing references to prospective employers as a burden. They see this task as a potential landmine that could only hurt their chances of landing their next job. But this is the wrong way to view references; candidates need to see their references as an easy opportunity to strengthen their candidacy.

When it comes right down to it, recruiters, human resources professionals, and hiring managers are all “consumers” – consumers in the process of procuring talent. And like all consumers, they want to be assured that they are making the right buying decisions. And what better way is there to inspire confidence in a consumer than to show reviews from other satisfied consumers?

Here are three ways to use your references to your advantage:

Create Your Narrative

Begin by crafting your interview narrative. What are the key talking points you are planning to discuss during your interviews? These talking points and examples of achievement should be embedded within all of your job-search documents and conversations, including your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, follow-up letter, and references.

What is your “story”? What compelling reasons are you giving to a prospective employer about why you will be an asset to their company? This is the same story you want told in every phase of the job-search process, including your references. If your main value is that you can streamline cumbersome processes into efficient systems, then make sure that this is clear across all of your documents and conversations. You also want this story told by your references.

If one of your references is asked to describe your strengths, how will they know that you are promoting your ability to streamline processes? Left on their own, they may decide to talk about your ability to lead teams – which also may be one of your strong points – but misses the message you are trying to send.

Reach out to each person you are planning to list as a reference to discuss your talking points. Make sure they are on board with your messaging so that their testimonial aligns with the interview narrative you are promoting.

Write it Down

Now that you’ve determined your narrative, you can guide interviewers toward that direction by including your talking points with each reference you list. Prepare a sheet of references with three to six entries. Instead of just listing names and contact information, also include talking points for each person. Under an entry for Mary Johnson, you can write: “Mary was the COO of ABC Company. Here, I worked closely with Mary to consolidate four warehouses into one, while developing standard operating procedures for the entire division.”

This way, you are supporting your messaging by steering the reference conversation to your talking points. Instead of hoping the interviewer will somehow get around to this achievement, set the stage to lead the conversation. It would be a natural first question: So, I understand that Bill worked with you to consolidate warehouses. Can you tell me about that?”

Reach a Consensus

When leaving a company, try to include the reference narrative as a part of your separation agreement. In addition to any severance pay or other perks, come to terms on what will be discussed when potential employers call to ask about your time at the company. This is where you can discuss the talking points you would like mentioned. While not everyone leaves under circumstances that allow for this type of conversation, you are better off reaching a consensus ahead of time.

Ask Your Recruiter

Not sure how to frame your narrative? You can reach out to your recruiter to help develop talking points for your resume, LinkedIn profile, and references. With more than 60 offices throughout the nation, FPC National has helped thousands of job seekers achieve their career goals. Contact your local FPC office and see how you can create a winning narrative for your job search.

Anny Barrad

Anny Barrad