Have you ever wondered if a job reference you give can make or break someone’s chances of getting that position? I mean, really, if they’re calling, they’re already interested, right? Many people think of reference checks as a mere formality, and sometimes they are. Turns out, they can. It’s no secret that the job market is tough these days, the truth is, every little bit can help or hinder one’s chances of grabbing a competitive spot, especially in the tech sector these days. If an employer is on the fence about a recent interview, it may be up to you to help a job seeker secure a position.
Nothing like a bit of pressure to make you wonder if you’re helping or hindering someone else’s efforts, right? Fortunately, it’s not hard to help someone else out while maintaining your own integrity. When looking to give a positive job reference, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be Honest – When giving a reference, you can be perfectly amicable without bending the truth. Don’t say anything that will hurt the person, but don’t say anything that isn’t true either. If you can’t think of anything nice to say, politely decline when asked if you’ll be a reference. If you can’t answer a specific question, relay that to the interviewer, and follow up with a bit of information that may be interesting to them. It is perfectly acceptable to say “To be honest, I can’t speak on that, but what I can tell you is…” They’ll appreciate your honesty, and you won’t be compromising your own integrity.
- Be Realistic About Strengths and Weaknesses – The smartest person in your office is not always the best person in an interview situation. Be sure to explain that while they may tend to be introverted in new social situations, this lends to exceptional productivity on the job front. Are you giving a personal reference for one of your most social friends let the interviewer know that they’re amazingly talented at motivating a team or public speaking. Play to their strengths, even if they may not be demonstrative of the job in question. You never know what the interviewer might take from a seemingly offhand comment.
- Be Kind – Regardless of how well you know a person, think of how much they need this opportunity. They chose you to be a reference for a reason, and your own reputation is riding on how you respond to questions asked of you. This may be five minutes out of your week, but it is a potentially life-changing situation for the interviewee in question. Keep in mind that you are helping or hurting someone’s professional reputation. Act accordingly.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Elaborate – It is perfectly okay to veer off topic a bit if you’ve got something to share that may help your friend or co-worker get a foot in the door. On that note, however…
- Know Which Details Are Best Left Out – That story about jamming 200 people into your college apartment for an impromptu party may be relevant to a position involving event planning or to highlight their ability to run a fundraiser, but it probably won’t help their chances of getting a position in accounting or at their local elementary school.
- Share (appropriate) Personal Anecdotes – Help them get to know the person behind the position in question. Is your friend or family member the life of the party? Let them know how great the job candidate will be at keeping both colleagues and clients engaged. Was your dorm room the tidiest room on campus? Explain how that translates to projects being organized and completed on time, all while maintaining a spotless yet efficient workspace. Do they think outside the box? Give examples of how this had helped get them to the front of the pack, or keep them out of a sticky situation.
- Be Respectful of the Interviewer’s Time – They may want to know how long you’ve known the job candidate in question, but they probably don’t care about that half hour story about the one time 20 years ago when you swept the Little League World Series.
I recently gave a personal reference for a family member. I quickly discovered that the position was way over my head technically, and let the HR director know. Instead of making the call a waste of her time, I quickly jumped in to let her know that while I didn’t have much day to day experience with the high technical level of the position, that I could tell her that the candidate in question was a quick study, and would settle for nothing less than perfection in a work environment. I went on to tell her that although he’s just getting started in his career, what he lacks in time behind the wheel is more than compensated with a hunger to learn and a drive to be successful. I also shared that while he may not have 20 years of experience, he is friendly and easy to talk to – something they don’t see every day in such highly technical positions. I went on to let her know that as a less technical end user, I very much appreciate when technical people can treat me like a person, and explain things to me on my level instead of talking over my head to feed their own ego. Guess what? Not only did he get the job, but the interviewer told me that if he was anything like me personality-wise, he’d be a great asset to their team.
I highly doubt that she was trying to make me feel good about myself, but she did just that. We both left the conversation happy, and excited for the future of our now shared interest, who just happens to be my little brother.