Your references can mean the difference between being winning the job vs just being a finalist.
Can your references increase the chances you’ll actually win the job over the other finalists?
Think about your references from past employers. Sure, all your references probably say great things about you (otherwise you probably wouldn’t list them as references, would you?).
Just because your references say nice things about you, is that enough to differentiate yourself from other candidates … whose references also say nice things about them also?
We’ve been taught that the level of the person giving the reference is the most important thing. So most of us think that seeking C and V level references from large companies will be the most impressive to our target hiring manager.
Sure, if Bill Gates or Warren Buffett are willing to give you a reference, their “star power” might temporarily impress your target hiring manager. But for most of us, will Bill or Warren really know what it’s like to work with us, unless they were our direct manager or a one-up (our manager’s manager)? So while this reference might be exciting, it’s unlikely one of those references would be able to provide a reference that would cause a candidate to stand out.
However, your references might differentiate you if you’re lucky enough to find a hiring manager who cares about the things your references are complimenting you about. Then again, your target hiring manager might not care … because the things you’re being complimented about won’t help your hiring manager solve his/her problems.
Most of us leave this up to chance …
We leave it up to chance because we give the same references, who say the same thing to each hiring manager. Some of us just give the same letter of recommendation to each employer – I’m not knocking letters of recommendation … but giving the same letter of recommendation to each employer gives you poor chances that your recommender will correctly guess what’s important to the hiring manager.
But you don’t have to leave it up to chance. Instead, you can increase the odds that your target hiring manager will care about what your references say.
4 ways to help your references to differentiate you
- Understand the hiring manager’s priority problems: Once you understand the hiring manager’s priority problems, you’ll know what they care about. If a hiring manager’s goals are to increase revenue, they won’t care about references who sing your praises as an awesome cost-cutter. But until you know what your specific hiring manager’s priority problems are, you and your reference will just guess. Instead, research by talking to people inside your target company to better understand the hiring manager’s goals, problems, and priorities.
- Match references to hiring managers: Not every reference is a good match for a specific hiring manager. Industries, job functions are the matches most often chosen, but they are often the least relevant. Instead, look for hiring managers where your accomplishments and the value you provided best match the hiring manager’s priorities. Matching by story is usually more relevant than by industry/function.
- Prep each reference: If you did a good job for your reference, there are probably many complimentary things your reference could say about you …they are not all created equal in your hiring manager’s eyes. If you leave it up to the reference to choose what he/she thinks is best, there’s much lower odds that the reference will be relevant. Instead, when you prep your reference first, asking them to talk about a specific accomplishment/value provided or personal trait, you have much higher odds that the reference will hit the hiring manager’s hot button (especially when you’ve done the right research – see point #1 above). You don’t need to put words into your reference’s mouth, but can instead guide them about what parts of your work with the reference will be most meaningful to the hiring manager.
- Have many references: You won’t have much choice if you only have one or two references. Your best bet is to have 8-10 references to choose from. Don’t make the same mistake I see from many job seekers, who list all 8-10 references, allowing the hiring manger to choose who to call. Instead, list 2-3 references, selected based on hiring manager matching – see point #2 above. Your references will appreciate they aren’t getting calls from every company that sees your resume – plus they will be more likely to return reference calls if you’re selective about who you give the reference’s name to.
By using the above 4 tips, you’ll be able to customize your references to the hiring manager’s specific needs. The way you’re likely providing references today, you assume one-size-fits-all in a custom fit world.
So will you continue to provide all potential employers the same list of references, without customizing the messaging your references’ add to your personal brand?
Or will you decide to actively manage the communication and input your references provide that influence hiring decisions?
It all depends if you’re satisfied by leaving your odds of getting hired up to chance, or if you want to improve those odds for specific employers.