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Submitted by Dani Martin on


Hi all! I am in the thick of my job search and am really enjoying it! It's humbling, energizing and anxiety-inducing all at the same time. :)

I just listened to the Sharing Your References podcast and am quickly getting to work as I have provided references to 5 companies in the past 3 weeks. I made note of a few questions as I listened to the cast. I would be most grateful for anyone's feedback and advice.

1. My career is in the non-profit sector and am applying for jobs in the same. Several of my references are volunteers and vendors that I worked closely with on the projects described on my resume. Is this ok?

2. Do you ever provide references prior to be asked? For example, several folks in my network are aware of my job search and have asked me to send them my resume. Should I also include my references? My intial thought is no, but I'd like some validation. :)

3. I worked for my previous employer for about 95% of my career. The company absolutely prohibits employees from giving references. All requests must be sent to HR where only length of employment and last position are verified. I have references on my list who I worked with at that company and have also left (specifically, former boss). However, I'm concerned about not having any current employees listed as references. I have strong relationships with people still employed there, but I don't want to put them in an awkward position by asking them to do something I know the company prohibits. Thoughts? Advice? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

4. Would you do anything differently when asked to provide references prior to an interview? When I've applied online for positions, some request references up front along with the resume. I'm sure the steps Mike and Mark outline in the cast still apply... I'm just wondering if there's anything else I should do.

Thank you so much for your help!

refbruce's picture

Well, I'll offer a couple of opinions, since none of the more knowledgeable folks have chimed in. The problem with references from a previous employer is one I've dealt with.

1) A reference should be someone who can effectively describe the behaviors and skills which will make you successful in the new position. Vendors are harder, but a volunteer that you worked with closely (and perhaps "supervised") would be a reasonable reference. I can't see a circumstance where I would view a vendor as a reasonable reference, but I may simply lack imagination.

2) I would not provide references prior to being asked, which I think echos Mark & Mike's sentiments. My reason is that I want to get as much information as possible about the job and the environment, so that I can decide which references are most relevant. A few questions may uncover that there's a strong personal connection to a possible reference, and that could cause me to use that person instead of someone else.

3) The prohibition on being a reference is common. For my former employer, Catbert sent out an email while I was in my job search that serving as a reference could be grounds for termination. Some prospective employers will understand this, some will not. I was able to find some people who would allow me to list them, with the understanding that contact would be by phone, at their home number. And I only provided this information to an HR representative of my now current employer with the appropriate explanation of the magnitude of the favor these people were doing for me and the risks they were taking. The on-line application process requested references, so I listed two people who were safe, and added a short note that my (then) current employer prohibited people from being references, but I could provide contact information for a couple of people upon a specific request. No, IMO, you are not necessarily making a mountain out of a molehill, depending on how much Catbert there is in the HR organization from whence you came.

4) When asked to provide references prior to an interview, I would make sure that the references knew when the interview will be (if one has been scheduled), with whom, and any additional information I had about the opening. See above for my thoughts on providing references into an HR black box when there are possible risk issues.