EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

When you actually get into the finals for a significant “work opportunity,” you don’t want to muff it. (Just so you know, work opportunities used to be called jobs, but that implies they will last a long time, and we know they don’t.)

Anyway, one of the rituals or hoops that many firms make you jump through is providing references. A delicate topic considering that you might be currently working or you might have left the firm where you got your most significant work experiences quite some time ago.

Selecting references can be easy if you have kept in touch with old bosses and co-workers, but the place where most folks miss the boat is providing these individuals with the tools they need to say the nicest things about you.

Truth be told, the magic we perform on a daily basis isn’t always obvious to outsiders. (Outsiders are non-accountants.) What is worse is that the “new job” may only require certain aspects of our background. The last thing you want a reference to do is over sell you. If your new staff is 5 and your old staff numbered 50, you don’t want that made too obvious. Memories fade and unless the folks you use as references know what they are “selling into,” it is no wonder that most of them do you a disservice.

At a minimum, you need to call each and every one of your references and let them know they are going to get called. Secondly, send them a current resume. And thirdly, send them the job description if you have been given one. Finally, send them a script about what to say.

The story goes that I have been the guest speaker at many meetings. Sure, I have a bio that appears on our website, and by way of introduction I have often sent that as part of my advance materials. Even so, I leave nothing to chance. No matter how well the person introducing me may know me, I have found it best to provide a short script. (Besides, I don’t want them taking up too much of my presentation time since I tend to blather on.)

Like a good 90-second announcement, the ideas you want them to present (speech is the slowest form of communication) need to be tightly woven. By giving them the tools, your resume and the job description, and giving them a script of sorts, your valued references can ad lib without doing you much harm. Left to their own devices, they may leave out important factoids about you, or bring up things you would rather they didn’t mention. (After all, you were arrested and tried, but NOT convicted. — just kidding.)

A good salesman knows when to shut up, but many references don’t. Your customer is basically sold. All they can do is un-sell them. For the most part, companies don’t bother to do reference checking to find out more good things about you. They do it to find out the dirt. Things like why you left your last job, did you get along with others, stuff like that. None of it is good and none of it is helpful to your candidacy. If you didn’t effectively close the sale, your reference won’t be able to do it for you. Don’t expect them to. Let them follow the physician’s rule – do no harm.

Without seeming to be evasive, they should primarily answer questions asked and keep their responses brief. You won’t be there and you won’t be able to listen in, so you can’t control the situation. All you can do is hope they don’t do you any damage.

Select them wisely, provide the tools and that will have to be the best you can do.

If any members have suggestions on “the management of references,” send them in using that caption to [email protected] and Leslie will put them in the newsletter for all of us to learn from your knowledge and experience. Sharing our wisdom, gained often at great expense, is what The FENG is all about. I hope many of you will participate.

Regards, Matt

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