Mommy Really Shouldn’t Be A Reference

If I had a nickel for every time a candidate’s references ended up being a family member or close friend I’d be bathing in the sun on some exotic Caribbean island. Okay, so I’m exaggerating. Considering it takes 100 nickels to make 5 bucks, I’d probably have enough for a super sized fast food meal. Still, it happened too often for my taste.

I know providing references can be difficult. If you’ve lost track of former supervisors, have worked in a family business, are new to the working world, have a bad experience you’d prefer to steer clear of or have a previous employer with a policy against giving references it’s tough. That said, there are ways to address the problem of providing references without coming off as if you are trying to pull the wool over a prospective employer’s eyes.

Keep in mind what potential employers hope to gain from references. References aren’t just a name and phone number to cross off the list. At least they shouldn’t be. Most potential employers are looking for objective feedback on an individual’s ability to perform tasks relevant to the job and his overall attitude and commitment in a work environment. In addition, they are hoping to verify the job descriptions, titles and compensation details the candidate provided are indeed true. When it comes to the latter, every company should be able to provide job titles, dates and descriptions when contacted by a other companies. Especially if the request for information comes with a signed release from the candidate. Some companies do draw the line at offering up comments relating to performance. Most potential employers realize the potential to hit a brick wall with those types of questions. That doesn’t stop them from wanting a chance to ask though.

When you know you are in a situation where providing a relevant reference is hard, you have to first do what you can on your own to correct that problem. If you’ve lost touch with former employers, you must make an effort to reconnect. You can accomplish a lot with Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, emails and the phone book. If the problem is having a negative experience with a former employer, you can’t run from that. In fact, doing so makes your contribution to the problem more suspect. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Preparing a potential employer in a professional way for the possibility a reference may not be your biggest fan goes a long way. More people than not have had at least one person in their professional life they haven’t seen eye to eye with. How people handle those situations and more forward is the telling part. If the issue lies more with not having the right kind of reference contacts, then you have to be honest with a prospective employer about your relationship to the references you’ve provided. If you are new to the working world or come from a family business, it is best to ask the company what types of references they would find beneficial to them. Would customer or vendor testimonials be helpful? Perhaps using teachers or advisors would work?

Bottom line, don’t waste a hiring manager’s time by having them ask dear old mom to categorize your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a lame thing to do and leaves both mom and the hiring manager feeling dumb. Also, if the only people you can come up with to provide testimony to your abilities are friends and family members, it is cause for alarm bells to ring in a potential employer’s ears. Alarm bells are best avoided.

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