Checking Your Own References

When was the last time you checked your own work references? If you are like most of us the answer is "Never." (There is a big difference between asking people if they would be willing to give you a reference and knowing what they will say about you.) How much do you really remember about the job performance of people who worked for you five years ago? Could you tell prospective employers specific accomplishments those employees produced?

Review Work Reference Questions To Ask to get an idea of the kinds of reference questions potential employers and search firms are asking. Then ask yourself how well you could answer those questions about yourself. Odds are, your answers will leave a lot to be desired because you have not thought about the questions before. If your own answers are somewhat vague, pity your poor former employers. Worse yet, pity yourself because they won't be able to support you very well.


Stay in Touch With Your Former Direct Bosses - Network!

We are continuously amazed that job applicants don't know where their former direct supervisors are working. Your past bosses are wonderful sources for jobs in the future, assuming of course that you did a good job for them. Don't lose track of them. If you have lost track start to find them right now. When candidates contact our Search Division but don't know where any of their past supervisors are we don't get very interested in them. All of our clients are going to want to run work references.

Once you have found your former supervisors send them a brief letter telling them the following:

  • That you are starting to search for a new career opportunity.
  • That you would like to list them as a former work reference.
  • Remind them of your accomplishments when you worked for them.
  • Briefly identify how your career has advanced since leaving them.
  • Then include a current resume and a copy of your reference list where you identify which aspects of your background they are best able to address.
  • Let them know you will give them a call in a week or so to touch base and answer any questions they have.
  • Ask them if they are looking for anyone, or if there is a way you may assist them.

Be sure to make that follow-up call to them. The phone call will give you an indication of how well they remember you so you know what kind of a reference they are likely to give you. (If you find they are having trouble remembering you, at least you will know to advise prospective employers that you worked for the person a long time ago and they may not remember a lot of the details.) Usually, former employers appreciate being contacted and reminded of your accomplishments with them and they are glad to hear about your career growth since then. (Often they are so glad to hear they will offer you a job.)

If, when you worked for them, there were some areas where your job performance left a lot to be desired, mention those areas to your former boss and tell them how you have specifically overcome those shortcomings. Most of us find, as our careers progress, that we were not quite as good as we thought we were in the early years.

Many of us look back at our early jobs when we thought we were a lot smarter then we really were and wonder why our bosses didn't fire us. It will help when you go back to your former bosses; tell them exactly how you have grown and that you appreciated them putting up with you. When you can give them specific examples of how you have matured, they will be more willing to give you a good work reference.

  • If your current supervisor knows you are looking, or your most recent supervisor, ask them for a critical assessment on your skills.
  • Tell them your career objectives and then ask them which areas you need to strengthen to prepare you for your career objective.
  • If they are kind enough to give you feed-back, shut-up and listen. Don't disagree with them or try to defend yourself. Your objective is to find out what they view as your shortcomings.
  • Thank them for their frankness, then go away and spend some time thinking about what they told you.
  • If after thinking about it, you disagree on a point of two, go back to them and indicate why you disagree and ask them to clarify what they meant. This lets them know you heard what they said, thought about it, and have the interest in improving yourself to ask further. They can then either retract their previous comments, or elaborate.

Once you have landed a new position be sure to let your reference know you are off the market and to thank them for their assistance. Also ask them to call you if you can assist them in any way. (Some employers like to get references from subordinates.) Who knows, you may be able to help one of your former bosses with their next career move. Or suggest them to your employer. If you hear of a job you think might be perfect for one of your former bosses call them up and tell them about the position. Even if they are not interested they will appreciate your keeping them in mind.


What about a bad work reference?

You worked for someone and got fired. (It has happened to most people at one time or another in their career.) Put them on your reference list anyway. Most employers are suspicious when all the references speak in glowing terms. During the course of a career most of us have worked for someone we didn't like or couldn't get along with.

  • Put them on your reference list and then let prospective employers know that you were fired (or laid off, whatever the situation was).
  • Tell them you are not sure what kind of a reference the person will give you. Most prospective employers appreciate an applicants willingness to give a reference that may not be complimentary. (And the prospective employer almost always discounts the reference because they have been forewarned.)

We also find that most people who have had to fire someone bend over backwards to give the person a fair reference. Most applicants are hesitant to call up bosses that have fired them. Those same applicants tell us they were pleasantly surprised that the person was very willing to give them a reference, was pleased to hear how their career has progressed, and that the person concentrated on what the person did well instead of the incident that caused the termination.


Bottom line. Make sure you know where your former direct bosses are and that they have the information to give you a good work reference.

Sample Reference List



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