warning your references ahead of time
November 21, 2009 9:59 AM   Subscribe

I've found a great potential job, given them references, and know the references will be contacted on Monday. To what extent is it typical to let your references know beforehand they will be contacted by my potential employer?

My list of references are friends and a couple of people from work including my supervisor.

I've been amongst the under-employed for a bit. My current position went from full, to half, to quarter time in the past year and three quarters. My skills and interests are seemingly diverging from their needs.

I'm not too concerned about the references I will get from my friends. My supervisor, on the other hand, I don't know how this will go. The potential job did not specifically request the supervisor's contact info but I put it down anyway thinking it would look strange if I did not do so.

As a note, I did not notify my references beforehand they were a reference.

I'm still working there, albeit quarter time, when other folks have been let go entirely, so the company sees value in my continued presence, though apparently not enough to employ me full time.

So, what I'm wondering is whether I should be contacting my references to let them know they are likely to get contacted. In particular, my supervisor is one key element.

At this point, I'm thinking something along the lines of simply letting him know this is occurring. He's clear I'm looking for work, or at least should be since other potential employers have contacted him in the past.

I had originally thought to do a little pre-programming with my supervisor to remind him of my successes and best attributes. I think it's a little late to do this now.

I'm wondering what the hive-mind knows about this subject and whether it's considered good form to contact your references to let them know in advance.
posted by diode to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I try to give folks a heads up.
I don't "pre-program" them.
posted by Drasher at 10:09 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's both courteous and smart to give your references a heads-up that they may be contacted in the near future. This advance notice gives your references a chance to prepare. Also, sending a friendly, professional email to your referrers gives you the chance to provide things like a current copy of your resume, a description of the job you're applying for, and a brief statement of why you're excited about that job (and how your qualifications match up with the position's requirements). Everybody wins here--you provide enough information and notice that the referrer feels equipped, between your info and their knowledge of you, to speak authoritatively about why you'd be great for the job, you get a chance to (hopefully!) get your message across, and your professional relationship with your referrer might benefit from the consideration you've shown by getting in touch in advance.

(Good luck, by the way!)
posted by teamparka at 10:10 AM on November 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm wondering what the hive-mind knows about this subject and whether it's considered good form to contact your references to let them know in advance.

It's considered good form to ask them if they're willing to give you a reference, before you provide their information to your potential new employer. It's too late for that in this case, so the best thing to do now is to talk to each of them and let them know what's happening.

You want your references to seem like they are happy to provide their positive feedback about you. You don't want them to sound surprised, and it's hard to sound positive if they're wondering what's going on. Or worse, pissed off that you listed them as references without asking them first.
posted by FishBike at 10:10 AM on November 21, 2009

A simple heads-up that you listed them as a reference is good form. Any coaching them about what to say is not.

I have gotten called out of the blue because several times people listed me as a reference, and even though I had good things to say about them, I sort of hemmed and hawed a bit on the phone, getting my bearings, and thinking of stuff to say.

So, yeah, they should know, IMO.
posted by Danf at 10:11 AM on November 21, 2009

Yes, it's generally considered good form to ask people if they would be willing to give a reference in advance. It can be awkward asking for a reference from someone at your place of current employment (i.e. "I don't want to work here anymore!") but if they're underemploying you and they like you they should be happy to give you a reference for a good full-time job.

If you are SURE your references will be contacted Monday then you should try and let them all know beforehand.
posted by scribbler at 10:11 AM on November 21, 2009

P.S. I just re-read this question, and saw that you haven't previously requested permission to use your supervisor as a reference. I think it's important to ask for that permission, and also to specify that what you're looking for is a strong, positive reference. You can give the potential referrer an out if they can't/aren't willing to provide one (i.e. "While I would be grateful for your reference, if for some reason you are unable to provide a strong recommendation, please let me know", or however you want to word it). Knowing in advance whether someone contacted is willing to enthusiastically recommend you before you give a potential employer their contact info is important.

Sorry if I'm being Captain Obvious, but I just wanted to add that.
posted by teamparka at 10:16 AM on November 21, 2009

One thing to add to what's already been said: It doesn't look strange to leave your current supervisor off of a list of references. It's common to ask your prospective employer to be sensitive to your privacy, as your current employer isn't aware that you're interviewing.

In some situations, it might change the dynamic at the current job if they knew you were looking for a new job. (Think about it. If there were a round of layoffs coming and you were a manager, wouldn't you be quicker to lay off someone who you knew was mentally one foot out the door?)

You can't assume that all companies check references only once they've decided to hire you. You also can't assume that anyone whose name you would write down would give you a good recommendation.

Take the opportunity to give a list of people you want prospective employers talking to, not the list of positions you think they're expecting.

Ask potential references whether they would give you a good recommendation, and give them an easy way to say no. "I know you're not my manager, so you might not know enough about me, but would you be willing to give me a good recommendation? Don't worry if you'd rather I get someone else to do it; I'd understand it's not that we don't work well together."

And good luck!
posted by nadise at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2009

Your questions are being well-answered above, but there's at least one other question you didn't ask:

I put it down anyway thinking it would look strange if I did not do so.

Actually, you should not feel pressured to include the supervisor. Since the typical goal of looking-while-employed is to keep your higher-ups from knowing you're looking, it is totally unexceptional that the supervisor not be used as a reference at this point.
posted by whatzit at 10:58 AM on November 21, 2009

I recently received a call on behalf of a former colleague who had given my name as a reference. I hadn't worked with her long, and didn't even work closely with her (she left under a bit of a cloud, which was probably why she gave my name as a reference rather than her supervisor and boss).

I was a little peeved that she hadn't even asked me first, especially since I was asked questions about her work and skills that I could have fudged a little better if I had known what job she was going for. I called her right afterwards and told her to let me know in advance next time.

By contrast, another former colleague always calls me or emails me to say, "Hey, xxx might be calling you about xx job, where I would be doing xxx." That way, I can prep a little when hiring managers call me (which has happened a couple of times for him).

So I vote for alerting your references ahead of time.
posted by vickyverky at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I actually recommend multiple contacts with references, as follows: 1) shortly after finishing whatever task/course/experience brought you in touch with the reference, ask if they would be comfortable serving; 2) when applying for position for which reference will be needed, by giving your reference your latest resume and info on job(s) for which you are applying; 3) with a quick heads up around the time you expect reference to be contacted and 4) with a thank you and quick update on how it all turned out.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but it actually cements your references' loyalty to and interest in you, and also means they are very well informed on the subjects that will assist you most.

Also, though you didn't ask this, I'd be very selective about whom you ask to be your reference. The person should not only know you reasonably well, but be a warm, supportive and articulate choice.
posted by bearwife at 11:39 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The potential job did not specifically request the supervisor's contact info but I put it down anyway thinking it would look strange if I did not do so.

Not true. In fact, having interviewed a lot of people myself, I would say that it's much more common the other way around.
posted by bingo at 3:06 PM on November 21, 2009

It's polite to tell them that they'll be getting a call. Tell them who the company is and what the job title is so they know what to expect.
posted by zippy at 4:51 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, thanks for all this information. Very useful. I'll be notifying my references and hopefully things will work out for the best.
posted by diode at 6:47 PM on November 21, 2009

A lot of time your supervisor can't even do anything other than confirm employment dates.

People sometimes have people call their references and pretend to be someone interviewing you. This was they can find out who is going to actually do a good job selling you.

I had someone put me down that i wouldn't give a good reference for. This put me in a weird place. He did actually tell me ahead of time though.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:01 PM on November 21, 2009

I have been asked to give references on a few occasions for for employees I wasn't super enthusiastic about. I would consider it un-professional to trash these folks; I simply go generic -- Joe was reliable and cooperative. He got along well with the team and impressed me with his integrity is not the same as Joe saved the department $10K per quarter, brought our showcase project in on time and under budget and ... I think most business professionals handle references in a similiar way, unless the candidate is outstanding. But definitely give a heads up: "Hi, former Supervisor, I wanted to let you know that I'm being considered for a job I'm very interested in and used you as a reference. Sorry for the short notice -- it came up quickly! Thanks for your support, diode." Good luck!
posted by thinkpiece at 7:05 AM on November 22, 2009

Ask permission beforehand.

Then, give them an e-mail heads up if you know they're going to be contacted. This gives them a chance to ask you any questions about the position. It also gives you another opportunity to thank them, and a bounced e-mail will let you know if their contact infomation changed.
posted by Kurichina at 8:15 AM on November 23, 2009

I have to second all the "ask and give a head's up" stuff.

Why? Because I once got a phone call at 7 a.m.* that turned out to be someone looking for a job reference for my old roommate. And I, assuming that the only crackpot who's calling me at 7 a.m. was my mother, who I have told Not To Call Me In The Morning Unless It Is An Emergency a billion times, did not answer the phone with a chirp and a smile, if you get what I mean.

Warning would be nice, that's all I'm saying.

* And the guy was in the same time zone as me!
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2009

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