If you’ve been working for a while, you have a number of people who could be references for you: colleagues, project managers, managers. All of these are people who know what you’ve done.
So, how do you choose references?
If you haven’t worked in the field long enough to have that many references, ask your managers wherever you worked before you got into the field. You want to ask managers who can attest to your reliability and value.
All of these ideas require that you stay in touch with people at previous jobs. You don’t have to have long conversations every week. Touch base with these folks every 3-6 months, so they don’t forget you. You can even remind them you’re staying in touch because you enjoyed working with them and that they’d agreed to be a reference.
Remember, these people are doing you a favor. Choose them carefully, prepare them, and don’t forget to thank them.
The nice folks at Social-Hire interviewed me. That interview is here: Expert Interview with Johanna Rothman About Hiring Technical People. I hope you enjoy it!
If you want to learn how to hire—fast, and without fear—read Hiring Geeks That Fit.
If you are a technical person, you probably dress in a casual way for work. I do.
When it’s time to meet people, either when you network or when you interview, do you wear the same clothes that you wear to work?
When I meet people at networking meetings, they are casual. And, I wonder when some of them last bathed or brushed their teeth. That’s a problem.
When you look for a job and you are out in public, you are networking. You don’t have to be overt, as in telling everyone, “I’m looking for a job. Know of anything?” On the other hand, every time people see you, they judge you. You need to be ready for that judgement.
How do you look? Are you well-groomed? This includes:
I met a gentleman a couple of months ago who arrived at a networking meeting with wrinkled clothes, and hair that looked like he hadn’t combed it in years. He was looking for a senior development position. He said he’d had trouble in the interview stage. No requests for a second interview, no offers. What was he doing wrong?
I asked him a number of questions about his technical background. He sounded like a great guy. He told me nailed the phone screens. I then asked how he dressed for the interview. “Just like this. These are my interview clothes.”
I asked him if he wanted feedback. He said he did. I told him the above and explained that it did matter how he looked. He was not happy.
I recently heard from him. He’s now made it to several second-round interviews. He might even get a job offer from one organization. Here’s the best part: he feels better about himself. He doesn’t feel as if he’s begging for a job. Because he changed his appearance from scruffy to professional, he feels better. He’s not wearing suits; he’s wearing chinos or khakis and nice shirts and sweaters. Everything is clean and ironed. Everything fits. His hair is long, and it’s tidy.
I can’t guarantee you a job if you look as if you take care of yourself. However, if you do take care of your appearance, you will project a self-confident persona when you interview. That’s what people want to see.
It does matter what you look like. Make your image reflect your best self.
I’ve been a reference for many peers, previous employees, previous managers, and even clients. It’s almost always my pleasure. But sometimes? Not so much.
I’d been managing a relatively junior employee who wasn’t quite clear on the concept of coming into work on time. He didn’t like deadlines—even the ones he gave himself. He was a little spacey, and would go off on tangential work that wasn’t part of his deliverables. When he did the work I asked him to do, he was great. It’s just that he did that so infrequently, he was a problem.
I’d inherited him. (Although, that was early enough in my management career, I could have hired him. I might not have known how to differentiate his talk and his actual work.) I worked with him over the course of three months, giving him feedback, and coaching him on how to deliver work on time, or at least show me progress.
Nothing worked. I asked him to find a new job. He did, in about two weeks. Ah, big sigh of relief.
About a month later, I received a call from his current manager, asking for a reference. I asked the manager if this guy was working there. He was. Why did he want a reference from me? “Because I want to know if his behaviour now is the same as it was when he worked for you.”
Oh boy. I answered the manager’s questions truthfully, and added, “He’s not a bad guy, he was just too much work for me to manage. If you could pair him up with someone, maybe you can straighten him out.”
The manager did pair him up with a more senior person and they worked well together for about three years.
How do I know it was three years? Because my ex-employee gave my name again as a reference. A potential manager called and asked me for one. I explained that I was uncomfortable giving a reference when he hadn’t worked for him for over three years. “Well, you’re one of his references.” I replied, “I would think people would grow and expand their skills in three years, and I can’t comment on those.” “It’s ok. Let me ask you questions.” I reluctantly agreed.
Of course, what did he ask me about? Delivering completed work on time. How he worked with other people. How quickly he learned the system. How well he stayed with the task at hand. I was not comfortable.
If you don’t reconnect with your references, you can’t know what they’re going to say. (And you can’t use them to build a target network list.) And, if you don’t ask them what they’re going to say, you might well be surprised. Previous managers who promoted you might not say nice things anymore. You don’t have to be fired to worry about a reference from a previous manager.
Never give a reference without checking with the person first. If you’re looking for a new job, talk to your references. Call them, email them if you must, but contact them and ask them what they would say about you. Make sure that the answer to “Would you hire this person again?” is an unqualified yes. If your reference has to qualify that answer in any way, discover why.
If you don’t know what your references are saying about you, you sabotage your job search. Don’t do that! Instead, reach out and connect with your references. They will be impressed. They will think more fondly and respectfully of you. And, you’ll know what they are going to say. Everyone wins.