In a world where everyone's resume looks similar, where everyone's experience looks very similar, where everyone kind of looks and sounds like a terrific candidate, so how do you break through in this fierce competitive job market?
That's right. You can only say how good you are as an employee so many times. At some point you need others to validate that to support your claim. You have more credibility if others sing your praises. In the HBR blog by Dorie Clark (strategy consultant, author, speaker) titled "How to get others to see your potential," she cites the research done by Pfeffer, Cialdini and others. In her conversation with Pfeffer, he says that "People don’t like people who self-promote. But ironically, even if you self-promote through the mouths of other people, somehow that stigma doesn’t get associated with you. It’s much better to have someone else toot your horn.”
So you may ask, but aren't others also doing the same thing? Perhaps. Assume they are, you just have to do it better. And you can, and you must.
Many would agree that references are very important in getting a job offer. No one would argue with this provided if they are used effectively and strategically.
I indicated in a blog titled, "Leave This With The Hiring Manager Before Ending Your Job Interview" when to use references. I am of the opinion that you have to use references early in the interview process (which I blogged about in "Use References Early In The Interview Process" if you determine that there is a mutual interest. Look, there is no point of having excellent references that never get used and become stale.
You would agree that it is always better to have references than have no references; however, references could also hurt your chances if you have not adequately spent time on what message you want your references to convey about you. At the end you only want to select people if they are interested, motivated and coachable.
Luckily for me Leslie was contacted first before my hiring manger contacted my other reference who was my ex-boss named Mike. Mike obviously knew me very well since I had worked for him and he knew that I did a great job working for him and it didn't hurt that he was very good in conveying that. He addressed the concern that my hiring manager had he spoke with Leslie. Mike was able to assuage any concerns my hiring manager may have had about me being aggressive in pursuing opportunities. Mike was mad at how Leslie had put me in a very bad light and urged me never to use Leslie as a reference since he almost cost my getting the job. Mike saved the day for me and I learned a valuable lesson that you really have to coach you references before you give their names to a prospective hiring manager.
What Questions to Focus on?
Before you provide any names as references, you need to make sure you can coach them in a way so they make you look like a hero in how you helped the company. One thing to remember is that references are the "after" to the employer who is "before." The references need to show that the "after" was very good after you worked at the company with your references.
- What was it like before you joined the company?
- What was it like when you left the company?
- What did you do at the company?
- What was your value add to the boss, team and the company?
- Would the person have you if you were interested in remaining or joining the company?
- Were you a leader, follower or both and why?
- How did you think, learn, taught and acted at work?
These to get you started. I would narrow it down to five so he can address them in about 30 minutes.
Is this little sappy? Yes, but if the hiring manager wanted facts, he could easily get it from your resume and social media. You also want your references to bring it to money in how much it cost them for not hiring well and the opportunities lost as a result of that.
You want to provide him phrases such as:
"If you hire him, it is like buying a growth stock."
"I would hire him right away if he wanted to come back; we would even create a position for him if it did not exist."
"You are lucky that you have gotten this far with him; he must really think very highly of you, the team and the company."
You do want each of your references to focus on one aspect of your strength so they don't all sound alike or too scripted. One can focus on your leadership skills, another can focus on your technical skills, and another can focus on your communications skills. This level of preparation requires a lot of planning and effort if you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Video Record Your References
Today you should video record all your references since this way you have total control over the questions. Also you can rehearse the answers so it conveys the right message. Another advantage of this is that you don't want to bother your references with talking to an employer. You only want to have the employer talk to the references if they have already sent you the draft of an offer. Lastly, with recording available, you can be proactive and send them to a hiring manager very early in the interview process rather than sit on them. You will have more tools at your disposal to increase your chances of getting a job.
References are critical in getting a job today. But just having references is not good enough; they should be willing to work with you and motivated to help you get the job. In cases where the hiring manager is on the fence, your references can be the difference makers. This can only happen if you coach them well.