We looked at how to request a reference for a job here, so now let’s look at what to do when you are asked to be a professional reference.
First and foremost – Do you want to say ‘yes’?
Keep in mind some companies have policies that only the HR Department can provide information to prospective employers. If the person was a great employee or co-worker, the answer may be obvious. If they were not so stellar and does not perform well in the job, you could look bad for giving a recommendation.
If you do not want to give a reference, be honest. There are a number of ways to politely decline to give a reference. One way is to say you cannot give a strong recommendation and suggest they look for someone who can praise them properly. Alternatively, you could recommend them on one skill (customer service, for example), but avoid another (timeliness with completing projects).
After agreeing to be a reference, you may ask for several things for reference:
Their current resume should reflect their most recent work history and highlight skills and accomplishments
- Job description of the position they are seeking
- A list of the top points they are hoping you will address
- Why they want the job and what they think they can do for the prospective employer
You should also discuss what you are willing to say if you are contacted. You may be qualified to talk about their interpersonal skills and high standards but might not know enough about their current position and the tasks they are performing. Go over the areas you can address that match the top points they want to highlight as part of their application. If they ask for a written reference, you may request a draft that lists the specifics so that you can edit it or use it as a template. As they will want to provide your contact information, make sure to give your current title, email address and telephone number, along with the best way to contact you.
When you do provide the reference, be sure you are enthusiastic about the person and be specific about their skills and expertise. Phrases like, “I would hire them in an instant,” or “They would be my first pick for a team member,” work well to show your opinion. Using the top points they requested, find specific examples of their performance you can mention. Did they improve sales by a specific amount? Did they land a targeted account? Did they lead a team project to success? Did they increase production or consistently meet quotas? The more specific you can be, the better for the candidate.
After agreeing to be a reference, it is best to write down the specifics and keep them handy. It may be a week, or more, before you are contacted. Writing down the highlights of your discussion and keeping it with their resume and job application will ensure you will be prepared to offer the best recommendation when you get the call.
When making your notes, be prepared for the most common subjects that are asked about:
- Interpersonal and communication skills
- Problem solving skills
- Adaptability – handling unexpected setbacks
- High standards – attendance, timeliness, how they treat others
- Uniqueness – how they stand out from others
- Areas of Improvement – what are some areas where the candidate can use improvement?
Be aware of the last subject: areas of improvement. In providing a reference, stay positive and avoid saying anything negative, especially if you have not first discussed the negative issue with the candidate. A good way to answer this is to highlight something that was an area of improvement, but is now a strength. For example, “When John first started working here, time management was an issue, but we worked on that together and now he is ready for additional responsibility.”
Lastly, if you are contacted, let the applicant know. A quick email or phone call to say you have been contacted and your impression of how the conversation went will keep your colleague from worrying and wondering.
Do you know someone who you'd love to help get a job? Does their work history lack any real substance? Well there are plenty of ways to gain relevant experience! People with a decently fleshed out resume tend to benefit from this as well!