A Job Reference Can Make Or Break A Career

Jul 19, 2018 | Blog

Image result for broken phoneHave you ever wondered whether your recruiter or potential employer is receiving the great job reference from your ex-employer that you expect?

On the other side of this, are you guilty of giving a less than flattering job reference on an ex or departing employee, simply because you are busy or are not feeling in a particularly good mood when you receive that call from the recruiter or potential employer?

The Candidate

Let’s look at it from the candidate’s perspective. You have been with your employer for a good few years, you have achieved everything you set out to achieve, you have great working relationships with your managers, but the reality is, there is nowhere to go from here. It’s time to make a move. You have discussed this with your manager and although they have taken it very hard as they are sorry to see you go, ultimately they understand and will happily act as your referee. Or so you think…

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More than once in my 14 years of recruiting I have seen two very different job references provided for the same candidate, by the same manager.

The Referee

Allow me to paint the picture for you. I conduct the first job reference check at a sensitive stage of the process – either the candidate has just resigned, or they have only recently left the business. The second time the job reference check is conducted, it is two years or more since the candidate left that business.

With that first job reference check, the manager in question is still sore over losing their employee. Naturally, it is tough to lose a good resource, but the time and money that is going to go into replacing that person is surely the most bitter pill to swallow. I, the recruiter in this situation, might catch the manager on a bad day.

He (as an example) is struggling with a team that is now short-staffed or he is spending his evenings doing all the work that he has been kept from because he has been interviewing potential replacements all day. He is in this challenging position because the candidate in question has left the business, and therefore, indirectly and subconsciously, the referee feels it is the candidate’s ‘fault’.

On this day the manager has remembered the couple of days the candidate took off from work for family responsibility and felt it necessary to state that ‘absenteeism was a problem at times’. On this day he’s too tired to think of anything better to say but ‘fine’, ‘no problems’, ‘average’ and ‘okay’ in response to all the questions. In any event, the job reference is mediocre at best.

The Difference

At the time of the second job reference check, a good few years down the line, all is well with the business – the successor in the role has become a part of the family and is adding value to the business. The wounds of rejection have healed. On this day, the manager is happy to spend time going into some detail on the candidate’s strengths, reflect on genuine areas of development and comment on how they feel the candidate would thrive in a challenging environment.

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The manager still tells me there were some days the candidate took off to care for a sick child but follows this up by saying they understand most of us have families and this was not an area of concern; it did not affect the candidate’s performance. On this day, a good, honest and detailed job reference is obtained. The one we all hope to receive from our ex-employers.

It is difficult for all of us to spend a sufficient amount of our valuable time, doing the right thing for someone else, every single time. But when it comes to something like a job reference, it is just so important. That reference can make or break a person’s career, so please, take your personal feelings out of it entirely; take 10 minutes out of your day, to provide an honest and detailed professional job reference every single time you receive a call to give a reference.


Written by Cathy Symmonds – Commercial Finance Recruiter – contact her at cathy@ca.co.za 

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