If you want to get promoted, avoid lukewarm references
When applying for a job, figuring out how your references will portray you can be pretty troubling. These days, with supercharged social networking profiles, potential employees still view references as one of the most important components in deciding whether to hire a candidate. So you have to make sure that your references show you in the best light possible - it’s one of the essential factors affecting career development.
This is the best case scenario. But what happens when your references might not be so great? For example, maybe you and your boss don’t see eye to eye? Or perhaps your supervisor is jealous of you?
Whatever the reason, in these cases, the references will be somewhere between negative and lukewarm. Though lukewarm might sound harmless, it’s not. If your prospective employer gets a lukewarm reference, they’ll certainly ask for the details - and soon what seemed harmless might turn into a disaster for you. This can spiral into one of the most damaging factors affecting career development.
Of course, the best thing to do is to completely avoid a lukewarm reference by asking for references from others. But unfortunately, there are times when a lukewarm one is inevitable. In such cases, there are three major ways of dealing with it. Naturally, you’ll need to choose which one is appropriate for your particular situation.
1. Approach your reference providers beforehand and ask what they might be planning on saying.
This is probably the hardest way to find out, but if you’ve had an open relationship with the reference provider, it’s the best way to go. Naturally, you shouldn’t take everything they say at face value, as telling you about you and telling someone else about you are two completely different things. However, my experience shows that such openness helps, especially when understanding in general what they’ve been satisfied (and dissatisfied) with. Interestingly enough, having this kind of open discussion with your reference provider could actually influence the reference itself in the end, especially if the meeting is done openly and without any hard feelings. In fact, if there is indeed a respectful rapport, you could remind the reference provider that their reference will of course have an important impact on whether you get your next position.
2. Indirectly find out what your references providers are probably going to say about you.
If the first method does not work, you could always ask a close coworker to find out on your behalf. If you’re not sure you’ll get a candid response, have a friend from another company call your reference provider and ask about you. Whichever method you choose, the important thing is that you have information that is more accurate than not knowing at all. And armed with this information, you’ll be able to emphasize (or deemphasize) certain aspects during your interview, depending on the image you want to project to your interviewer. Be ready to provide examples to justify your point of view, as this will help the interviewer see things from your side, as opposed to that of the reference.
3. Tell your interviewer like it is - and do keep trying to find more favorable references.
Damage control caused by lukewarm references can also be accomplished by actually telling your interviewer that you suspect that the reference might not be the most favorable. Then you should explain exactly why - citing exactly what happened, making sure not to blame anyone else. Then, it is good practice to provide names of other reference providers to show the other side of the coin, which of course can include subordinates, co-workers, or other managers who’ve had the chance to see your work. Another possibility is asking for references from key customers or even competitors with whom you’ve been in touch and who can attest to the quality of your work. These actions will not only help establish an honest relationship with your prospective employer but also provide them with unique perspectives from which they can judge your performance.
While having to foresee the unpleasant chance of receiving a lukewarm reference can definitely be seen as a nightmare when seeking a new position, there is hope. Try out one of the three ways of of handling lukewarm references I’ve mentioned here. At the very least, you’ll reduce some of the anticipated heartache. But it’s more likely that you’ll come out ahead.
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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