Career Exploration, Career Progression, Job Search Tips

What Questions To Ask Those Who Promised To Serve As Reference

Written by mrafeeq · 6 min read >

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

References mean different things to different people these days. It is usually only requested from the job seeker, as in ‘I’d like to have you serve as a reference,’ or ‘May I add you as a reference for jobs I apply to?’ The referrer seldom offers it, and this delicate balance needs to be re-evaluated.

This article will explore this often-confusing relationship between colleagues for a job-seeking task that is not utilized as often as it once was. Yet, whether job seeking or not, professionals can use these perspectives to deepen their relationships with their network and help discover hidden opportunities.

The Case for References

As we all know, word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing for getting a job. Apart from the hiring manager being your friend or relation, positive word-of-mouth demonstrates the positive PR any candidate can benefit from.

Here are five things that a candidate should ask of or consider from those who have promised to serve as a reference:

Do not ask your colleague to serve as a reference when you are desperate. As a best practice, the act of seeking and providing connections should not just occur in a time of need. Instead, job seekers and their references should value one another long before the urgency arises.

Indeed, asking a colleague to serve as a reference is a much softer request than asking if they know of any job openings, and most referrers would more readily agree to this request. Nevertheless, as a best practice, ask colleagues to serve as references when you are not seeking a job or perhaps about to begin a job search.

Ask for their permission first.

To many job seekers’ surprise, a trusted colleague may not feel comfortable providing a reference. Perhaps they are very busy with outside commitments and do not have time to be concerned if needed. Additionally, your colleague may feel uncomfortable providing a reference for you — for several reasons that may be unbeknownst to you. So gently ask their permission first.

Warn your colleagues before a potential recruiter makes contact.

Before typing your colleague’s name and contact info into the job application on a web page when applying for jobs, warn your colleagues that you plan to do so beforehand. No one likes surprises, and your referrers will be happy that you thought to keep them informed.

Ask colleagues to keep you apprised of contact with recruiters.

In turn, ask your referrers to let you know if a recruiter or hiring manager contacted them. Again, this information is valuable in an application process that is almost entirely automated.

Offer colleagues to serve as a reference for them.

While this may seem counterintuitive, as you are the one seeking a job, ask your referrers if they would like for you to serve as a reference for them. You may be out of work, but there is no better time to offer assistance in the other direction. After all, your colleagues may find themselves looking for a job at some point, and your offer will serve as a reminder for them to call in favour.

Leveraging LinkedIn

While seemingly a formal process, the act of requesting and collecting references has been facilitated with social media, most notably via LinkedIn.

LinkedIn’s References feature allows you to display references written on your behalf by others and have your concerns appear on others’ profile pages. Recommendations, when submitted, must first be approved before publishing, which brings about valuable conversations between job seekers and their colleagues.

Because your expertise and professionalism are on display for any of your connections to read, ask those who have agreed to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn to be as specific — and as grammatically correct — as possible. A poorly written or vague reference can reflect negatively on you, while a recommendation highlighting your performance for a specific set of tasks provides essential insights.

Good: ‘Prakash was a team player who got along great with the team.’

Better: ‘Prakash espoused a ‘can-do’ attitude and consistently demonstrated a willingness to solve problems when difficulties arose. In late 2011, we worked on a deadline for a client with a team of 10 analysts on three continents, utilizing outdated, incomplete information. John devised a solution that satisfied the client’s project requirements — under budget and delivered days before the deadline. Prakash would serve as an asset to any organization.’

Additionally, utilize recommendations you’ve written for others as a way to promote your expertise. Write proposals that feature depth; writing with specific, descriptive language reflects positively on you and could perhaps encourage someone reading your recommendation to click on your profile and read more about you.

Bonus: When a recommendation is published on a profile, it is pushed through the newsfeed of that profile.

Many overlook LinkedIn’s Recommendations feature, but it provides content that can immeasurably benefit you and your colleagues.

Do Recruiters Care?

It may seem archaic for a recruiter to follow up on references in a world of applicant-tracking systems software and thousands of resumes submitted for open jobs.

However, for that recruit may seem archaic for a recruit to follow up on references inIt may seem archaic for a recruiter to follow up on references ins and hiring managers who are eager to discover the more human side of an applicant — or perhaps.

While most job candidates fully expect a trusted colleague to sing their praises widely, a tepid or flat response can be telling. As such, it is essential to think about whom to ask to serve as your references. A trusted colleague from a past job may turn out to be a poor communicator while on the phone with a recruiter, which may come off as that colleague feeling indifferent about your past job performance. This can hurt your chances of being offered a job.

What’s your favourite memory with them, and why?

A better reference would be someone who is supportive of you and your performance but limits their conversations to describe your contributions.

Do not be afraid to ask for references from managers who were tougher on you; ideally, they’ll discuss their concerns with your past performance in an objective way. This can make them ideal candidates for discussing your weaker points. What are the areas in which they were less satisfied with you?

A list of your peers, former colleagues or direct reports who have agreed to write recommendations for you should be created immediately upon accepting a new job offer. LinkedIn should be an integral component of this discussion because it can help facilitate these conversations and provide immediate results.

Would you hire them again if given another opportunity to do so?

The question is straightforward, but the answer can be telling. Many employers are looking for reasons not to hire a given candidate, so having someone acknowledge that they would personally rehire you provides compelling information about your abilities.

A poor reference can be disastrous. The only acceptable response to the question is, ‘Yes, I would hire them again in a second.’ Knowing this in advance allows you to prepare for this likely topic of discussion during an interview.

What do they like most about working with them?

This is another straightforward question, but the answer could be telling. Is it their work ethic? Their leadership abilities? Their ability to complete tasks within a given deadline? By understanding what someone likes most about working with you, an employer can gain insight into your most significant selling point.

What is your relationship with the person being referenced?

There is a big difference between getting a recommendation from a former boss and receiving one from an intern you supervised for two weeks. The first provides greater context into your work, whereas the second would provide little insight to those reading it.

When someone asks you to write them a reference letter, ask about their relationship with the person being referenced and the kind of information they are seeking from you. This will help you write a more compelling letter.

For example, if an entry-level candidate looking to break into the professional world with little work experience, your recommendation should primarily highlight their ability to learn quickly and perform well in a team environment. If they have worked for large corporations

What are some of their strengths or weaknesses that may be important for me to know about them?

The answer to this question is perhaps the most telling. Even in an interview setting, most candidates cannot speak about their weaknesses for fear of appearing unable to accept constructive criticism or lacking self-awareness. Therefore, asking for help beforehand can provide you with a strong point of discussion when it arises during an interview.

A few more questions that you can ask are listed below

  • Would you say that they’re a good communicator (and if not, why)?
  • How many years have they known you?
  • Do they know your work ethic/style well enough to describe it accurately?
  • What are some of their best qualities?
  • Why do they think you’re a good worker?
  • What is something that you might not want me to know about why this person would be a bad reference for me?
  • How long have you known the person being referenced?
  • This is another essential detail that can give you a more vital idea of your contact’s kind of reference. If they’ve only worked with someone for five years, it likely won’t be as strong compared to one who has known them for 10 or 15 years. Ask about their availability and willingness to provide letters, references, or recommendations before accepting any offer.
  • What questions do you suggest be asked of those who promised to serve as a reference?
  • What are some red flags that should signal the total unavailability of the person being referenced?
  • Would it be better if they were contacted by e-mail or telephone?
  • What is the best time of day to contact them?
  • Is there a particular day that they are the busiest, so I should avoid contacting them then?
  • Is there anything else you can share with me about this person or your relationship with them that will help me mention you as a reference in my job application?
  • Would you recommend this person to a potential employer as someone who will show up on time and do what needs to be done without supervision?

In summary, start thinking about those who can serve as a job reference as early in the career search as possible. Make lists, and approach these individuals with your requests in the most professional manner possible. Always offer assistance in return, and keep the lines of communication open.

In the end, you should ask your reference if they would be willing to act as a reference for future employers. Ask them what questions they think potential employers might ask about you and how their answers reflect your character. You want people who will give you an honest opinion without holding back because of personal feelings or biases. Remember that these references could make or break someone’s chances of getting hired, so it’s essential not to take this question lightly!

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