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What are your CV references saying about you?

March 27, 2009

To add to Alvin’s post on the importance of references on a CV, it pays to know what a prospective employer will ask your reference, because it helps you determine who to put on that list.

Having refereed a couple of dudes in Singapore, I have personally received these pre-employment calls. Lets assume my friend’s name is Sally. This was what they asked me.

  • How long have you known Sally?
  • When did you last speak to her?
  • What was the nature of your relationship with her?
  • How would you rate her job performance?
  • What was her biggest talent?
  • What do you think she could improve on the most?
  • What was her biggest contribution to the company?
  • Would you hire her again if she wanted to come back to the company?

These pretty much tell you who NOT to put as a reference: someone you never had a working relationship with, someone you haven’t spoken to in 8 years, someone you just met for 10 minutes, and anyone you’ve ever had a major disagreement with.

But what if you don’t know anyone who will say anything good about you? Leaving the reference column blank or writing down “Available on request” could send the wrong message.

Well, I have seen CVs that list vendors and high profile clients as references. Vendors are anxious to please, particularly if they want to collect a favor from you in the future. And if you’ve ever delighted a major client, they might be happy to come to the rescue, as a character reference if nothing else. Though unconventional, it might actually turn out well if the job you applied to involves dealing with vendors and clients, like project management.

One last thing about references. Think twice before putting down VIPs as references as some companies might immediately chuck your CV to the bin. Reason: if you believe know-who will assure you high places, there’s a fear that you may not survive in a place that runs on merit. There’s also a fear of potential outside intereference. When I was in the US, I recall one case where a candidate listed a congressman as a reference in his job application and when he didn’t get the job, he threatened to pull the strings to get even. Good thing nothing happened.

So choose your references carefully.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2009 1:44 pm

    I think the best referees are those people who have worked with you before. Who cares if you’re a good son or a good chef, or a good and generous friend? What I want to know is whether you have good working attitude and whether my company will benefit from you.

    As for those VIP referees…..well, why do you need such high profile referees? To threaten me? Or you have nothing good to show, and that’s why you need some names to cover that weakness?

    People either admire or fear connected people. Candidates know it so some (not all) may try to use it their advantage. Its a form of manipulation. To remove any doubt, the interviewer can always ask what the connection is and if there is none or is irreleveant, one can always reject the applicant.

  2. tinytapir permalink
    March 28, 2009 10:01 am

    another point why it’s not good to use VIP referees – more than likely the HR person calling to get the VIP referees won’t actually be able to get through to the VIP at all. (commonly known as having your bluff called). Doesn’t reflect very well on the applicant either.

    Good point. That or list someone in Argentina or something, knowing that the interviewer probably won’t call because of the cost.

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