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Need a good job reference? Be a good job candidate

Last week I received an email from a prestigious university to ask my opinion regarding a recent applicant.

I knew the applicant. I was good friends with the applicant, five years ago. We worked together extensively for three years at a fast-paced, demanding volunteer agency. After our PCS we kept in touch, sort of. We attended her wedding, two years ago. Since then, we’ve exchanged holiday pleasantries and clicked the like button on each other’s Facebook pages.

I can tell you what Star Wars movie she has seen lately, what grade her child is in and even what her house looks like with Christmas lights.

I can’t tell you where she was working last year, if she was working last year, what kind of employee she was or if she is a good fit for this current position she is applying for.

Yet, she listed me as a reference.


I get it. We worked long hard hours together. She probably figures I saw her in action. I know her abilities and know what she is capable of. And that is correct. However, my knowledge of her abilities and behavior is five years old. That’s a lifetime ago in the job market.

Not to mention this new job has no connection to the volunteer work we did. In fact it is in a field I didn’t know she had any interest in.

So, I found myself in a pickle. Sure, I liked her, I thought she was a fine worker with a lot of potential but that’s about as much detail as I could provide. Not a terribly helpful reference.

The lesson here? Reach out to your references before you list them. If you feel someone has seen you at your best, call or email them and discuss your new goals and plans. Review what you have done to make yourself a viable candidate for the position you hope they will recommend you for.

And, most importantly, ask their permission to list them as your reference. After five years I wasn’t terribly comfortable being listed as her reference. I personally didn’t feel I had the best information to make a good reference for her.

Trust me, the last thing you want is a reference stumbling for words in front of a potential employer. If your reference isn’t confident in how they describe you, the potential employer will notice. It may mean the difference between being hired or being shown the door.



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