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The importance of maintaining a good reference

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Standard practice for a long time has seen candidates name a couple of referees at the end of their CV or covering letter, without a great deal of thought or consideration of what they actually mean. However, in today’s world of ubiquitous reviews, ratings and feedback, references available on request have become a significant part of an application process where employers look into every detail of a candidate to gain a competitive edge and ensure the right hire.

Your references need to be carefully considered and not just the names of two recent employers, or worse an irrelevant referee such as a family member (as 11% of candidates choose, according to a recent survey). They should be people you are confident will give a positive response on your work ethic and performance.

You should check that your referees are willing to help should the need arise, as even though employers aren’t legally obliged to give a reference, if they do, they are obligated to make it accurate. If you leave it to chance with an employer where you left on bad terms, you can hardly expect a glowing reference when they receive a request from your prospective new employer.

A good reference needs to be more than just dates, title and salary confirmation. It needs to imply, if the referee isn’t asked directly, that they would not hesitate to hire you again or recommend you to others. A good reference can make the difference between two candidates if it verifies your CV claims or reassures the interviewer over any concerns. To have solid references on stand-by is one less thing to worry about while you’re interviewing for a new position.

Maintaining these positive reinforcements throughout your career is equally important. Try to ensure that you leave each job on good terms, opening up the possibility of obtaining a more recent reference. How you conduct yourself and your work in the period before leaving a firm can have a positive (or negative) impact on your professional reputation, so keep in mind that today’s colleagues and managers may move jobs themselves and be hiring managers elsewhere tomorrow.

Burning bridges during the excitement of handing in your notice is a dangerous game, particularly if you plan to stay in the same industry. ‘Boomerang’ employees who return to a previous company are becoming more common, so keeping your current boss part of your evolving network for the future is the smart move.