Reference Philosophy

A reference is a testimonial of suitability to fill a specific organizational role.  When tapped to provide a reference for a colleague who is interviewing for a position, we’re being asked for an honest assessment—a particular challenge if that person wasn’t a top performer when we worked with them.

We’d all like to believe we were top performers in every position we held.  If we’re objectively honest, however, there are a multitude of reasons (some that may have been outside our control) this might not have been the case.  The same holds true for everyone in our network; so it’s important to give them the same benefit of the doubt we’d like them to give us.

Providing a Reference

I’ve learned I can serve all parties more effectively if I have the person asking for a reference send me an information email.  I ask for a description of the position they’re applying for, why they want this particular position, why they want to work for this company, and why they believe they’re a good fit.  Using that description, I prepare specific of examples of when I’ve observed this person doing this work successfully, being careful not to stretch the truth or fabricate any of the information.

I review what I’ve written with him/her so that we have a shared understanding of what I’ll be saying to the prospective employer.  This gives us both the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and allows me to not only represent him/her accurately, but to provide a reference that is relevant to the position.

Obtaining a Reference

When you’re asking a colleague to provide a reference, help them and yourself by following the same process.  Set the expectation you’ll do a quick follow-up to ensure you’re aligned on what the reference will contain.

Let your references know the outcome of your candidacy, regardless of whether or not you get the position.  Keeping the lines of communication open allows for future requests.  Return the favor whenever possible.

If you haven’t seen our guide RETOOL Your Linkedin Profile, and want to be part of The Consultants Toolbox network, take a look by downloading it here.  Use the guide to write your experience vignettes, and you’ll always have content for the emails you provide to the people you ask to provide references.

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Published by Leah Ward-Lee

Leah Ward-Lee, the author of "$1,000 Start-Ups", is a serial micro-entrepreneur. She opened her first business at ten after lobbying for and receiving a shoe shine kit for Christmas. She pulled her wagon through the neighborhood, going door-to-door, offering to shine her neighbor’s shoes for twenty-five cents a pair. Once her wagon was full, she took the shoes home and polished them. Unfortunately that business was short-lived. She hadn’t tagged the shoes and couldn’t remember whose shoes were whose, so her dad went with her to retrace the route until every pair was returned. Since then she’s had businesses developing and teaching college courses, instructing aerobic classes, owning half a plane that was rented to a flight and maintenance school, and renting homes. She’s also owned a consignment store, a gift shop, a gift basket business, a consulting firm, hosted The Executive Toolbox (a weekly radio show), and a publishing company. She also spent twenty years in the US Army, served as the Chief Information and Technical Officer for two major insurance companies, and has a second career as a management consultant. Leah resides in Dallas, TX and on Amelia Island with Sammy and Goliath, her two rescue dogs.

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