City Personnel Blog

Requesting And Providing Professional Job References

It's likely that most of us will be asked to provide job references at different points in our careers. They are essential for moving forward professionally, and are a great reason to keep up with networking. But what's the best way to establish references?
October 4, 2017

It's likely that most of us will be asked to provide job references at different points in our careers. They are essential for moving forward professionally, and are a great reason to keep up with networking. But what's the best way to establish references? What if you are asked to speak on someone's behalf, but don't feel comfortable doing so? Here's what our recruiters recommend:

If You Are Requesting A Professional Reference:

When you need someone to give you a reference, it’s best to let them know ahead of time. Giving them a heads-up shows that you’re courteous and professional, and will put them at ease when an unknown reference checker calls them. Most people are willing to help if you maintain your professional relationship with them and contact them before a recruiter does so that they know you need their help.

Your references should be from your most recent jobs, otherwise they may not remember enough about your work to provide an effective review. Keep in touch with former supervisors, coworkers, and even professors and volunteer coordinators so that they remember who you are and can verify your work ethic. If you have known them for a while but are starting a new job search, ping them again with a brief greeting and make sure they’re still willing to speak on your behalf. This also helps for checking and updating their contact information, in case they have changed jobs or switched phone numbers.

 How To Give A Job Reference:

Be ready to briefly but effectively answer questions about the context in which you worked with the applicant, describing what makes them a great worker and any areas in which they could have improved. Most reference checkers don’t need a lot of detailed information, but are looking for a broad overview of a candidate to make sure they’re the right fit for a position. They also listen to find out if you can speak positively about the applicant’s character. Chances are, if you genuinely liked working with them and feel they did the job well, this affinity will come across naturally in your review.

However, if they were not a good fit, it’s okay to say so. If you are concerned about defamation, you can decline to comment. But it might be best to focus on the positive: if you feel that the candidate was a good worker despite being unqualified, emphasize their work ethic but say that their skills were simply not right for that specific role. In this case, make sure to stress that although they tried their best, you would recommend them for a different position. This approach is honest, but still gives the candidate a favorable review.

 What If You Don’t Want To Be A Reference For Someone?

There may come a time when you are not comfortable being someone’s reference. You can always ask the candidate not to list you as a reference due to too much time passing since you’ve worked together, therefore you can’t remember enough about their work to speak for them. Another way to avoid being a reference for a lackluster employee is to simply avoid returning the reference checker’s calls or emails. Finally, if the person checking references manages to get you on the phone and you’re put on the spot, you can say you didn’t work with the candidate long enough or closely enough to accurately describe their work ethic. Most people checking references will take the hint, and this will save you from having to say anything uncomfortable.