Want a Professional Reference? How to Ask and What to Expect

By Nicole Fallon, Business News Daily Assistant Editor 

“References available upon request” may be a passé line to include on your job application, but there’s no question that professional references are still an important part of the hiring process. Hiring managers may like what they see about a candidate on paper, but they need to be sure of his or her potential as an employee. To find out, they’ll often call up the person’s references — typically former employers — to ask about how he or she performs in the workplace.

Before you apply to a job, it’s important to have your references lined up and ready to go in case an employer asks for them.

But whom should you ask, and how should you go about asking? Career and hiring experts shared their advice for getting a great professional recommendation.

Who makes a good reference?

DO: Ask a direct supervisor or professional mentor.

Assuming you haven’t burned any bridges, the best people to list as references are your immediate supervisors from previous jobs, said Bill Peppler, managing partner at staffing firm Kavaliro. It may not be possible in all cases, but if you have a particularly understanding boss at your current job, you may be able to ask for a reference as you search for your next opportunity.

“[Direct supervisors] know you the best and can vouch for you when it comes to your strengths and work ethic,” Peppler told Business News Daily. “Other people to strongly consider are professional mentors. If there [are people] in your company who have trained you or taken you under their wing, consider them since they have a solid understanding of your personality and receptiveness to training and feedback.”

Nick Swaggert, director of the Veteran Program at business consulting and staffing company Genesis 10 and a military veteran, said that, like in the military, rank matters when it comes to the person you’re asking for a reference. A reference from your last company’s C-suite might look impressive, but if that person has limited experience working with you, he or she might not have anything valuable to tell a potential employer. Therefore, it’s important to prepare him or her for the conversation. [3 Subtle Things Successful Job Seekers Do Right]

“When asking someone of a higher rank for a reference, ensure you are giving him or her solid talking points for the employer,” Swaggert said. “You might even [want to] send that person your old evaluations.”

Shawnice Meador, director of career management and leadership development for The University of North Carolina’s MBA@UNC program, said it’s important to consider the length of time and how long ago you worked with the person. Choosing someone you worked with many years ago, rather than your most recent previous employer, might indicate that you’re trying to hide something. At the very least, an older reference may not be as relevant to your current stage of your career.

“We all grow and mature professionally over time, so referencing someone who worked with you 15 years ago may only be familiar with your previous workstyle,” Meador said. “The more recent [your source is], the more relevant it will be for the person making the phone call.

DON’T: Ask a peer or someone who didn’t directly work with you.

It’s tempting to ask a workplace peer to serve as a reference. There’s less pressure because it feels like a favor, and you know he or she will give you a glowing recommendation. However, just because you feel more comfortable asking a friendly co-worker instead of your boss doesn’t mean you should. Peppler warned that listing someone in a peer role — or worse, a friend or family member who has never worked with you in a professional capacity — dilutes your credibility as a candidate.

Pat Dean, director of recruiting at factory maintenance and IT services company Advanced Technology Services, also noted that if you’re working with a staffing agency, you shouldn’t list your contacts there as a reference, either.

“They won’t be able to speak to [your] work,” Dean said. “Only the employee’s direct manager can do that.”

How should you ask for a recommendation?

DO: Inform the person beforehand and give him or her plenty of notice.

In some cases, when you leave a job or internship, your supervisor will happily offer to provide a reference for you in the future. However, it’s still polite to give that person a heads-up that a potential employer may be contacting him or her about your application. You can do this simply by emailing the person, letting him or her know you’re looking for a job, and asking for permission to provide his or her contact information to your potential employers, Meador said.

“Provide the person who is giving the reference or letter of recommendation plenty of notice so he or she has time to work it into their schedule,” Dean added.

Meador also advised expressing appreciation for the person you’re asking when you request a reference.

“People love hearing nice things about themselves,” Meador said. “Think about why you are asking [this person] in particular to write a testimonial. Mention something that you admire and appreciate about his or her leadership style, mentoring skills, or support of your career.  A little flattery can go a long way when you are asking a person to take time out to help you.”

DON’T: List someone’s contact information on your job application without telling him or her.

There are a number of problems with sending out a person’s contact information without their permission, especially if you include it on a publicly uploaded résumé. Not only are you opening that person up to unsolicited communications, but he or she will be blindsided when an employer calls for a reference, and will likely be unprepared to talk about you and your qualifications.

“If you post your résumé on job boards, you’ve broadcasted your reference’s contact information to way more people than you might think,” Peppler said. “Always ask before you provide contact information and consider the consequences when disclosing personal emails and phone numbers.”

Dean noted that some companies may also have a policy against providing references for current or former employees, so this is another reason to confirm a recommendation request beforehand.

What can you expect from your reference?

DO: Explain the potential job so your source can tailor the recommendation

When you’re interviewing for a job, you’ve probably done extensive research on the position so you can discuss your most relevant experience and show that you’re a good fit. Your source should know what your potential job entails so he or she can give you the best, most helpful reference possible, Dean said.

This is especially true if you are switching industries, where the lingo and common knowledge might be different from your previous career. Swaggert cited his own experience as a job seeker transitioning out of the Marine Corps, and noted that veterans need to go the extra mile in preparing a current service member for giving a reference.

“I once put my old military boss as a reference,” Swaggert said. “When the employer contacted him, he told them I was ‘a PT stud’ … who ‘knows how to impose his will on the enemy.’ It’s easy to see how that might turn off a perspective employer.”

Meador added that you should specific about the particular role, skill or accomplishment you want your source to highlight.

“Include example ideal job descriptions when possible, so the recommender can highlight things about you that ‘match’ those types of jobs,” she said.

DON’T: Forget to tell the person how you’ll be using their reference.

There are a few different ways a person can give you a reference, and you’ll need to be clear about what you need so your source knows what to expect. Will the employer be calling directly? Does the company require a personal recommendation letter? Or do you just want something to post on your LinkedIn profile?

“Be up front and authentic about what you’re asking for,” Peppler said. “Tell your reference … what you’re looking for. If you’re just posting it on your LinkedIn or sending along with several résumés, it might be a little different than if it’s for a specific job opportunity.”

Regardless of whom you ask and what type of recommendation you ask for, remember that your references are doing you a favor, and you should act accordingly. If they’re not comfortable providing a reference, respect that decision and move on to another source. If they agree, be gracious and formally thank them for their time and effort.


Trouble Fitting In? 8 Ways to Make Friends at Work

By Brittney Helmrich, Business News Daily Staff Writer 

Do you have friends at work? If not, you may want to start reaching out to your peers.

Studies show that having friends at work can make employees more productive, motivated and loyal to the company they work for, according to New York Magazine. However, fitting in at the office isn’t always easy.

Business News Daily asked business owners and career experts for their advice on fitting in at work. From saying, “hi,” in the morning to offering to help with projects, there are plenty of small things you can do every day to help you make friends at work.

Whether you’re new on the job or you’re just feeling left out, here are eight tips for forging friendships in the office. [Quiz: Are You a Good Co-Worker? 10 Questions to Ask Yourself ]

Observe the culture first

“After you start your job, check out the spoken and unspoken rules for the ways that people operate in your new workplace. Listen carefully to what’s happening in your orientation and training period. And then watch and listen to how people interact (by email? Chat? Phone? In person? Video conference?), and begin to emulate other people.” – Laurie Battaglia, workplace strategist, Living the Dream Coaches

Say, ‘good morning’

“Take the time to say good morning each day. It always surprises me how many people complain when their co-workers don’t acknowledge them in the morning. For some employees, this can truly be hurtful and create a barrier between co-workers.” – Angela Copeland, career coach, Copeland Coaching

Be helpful

“The best way to fit in at work is to have your colleagues’ back. Step up and give an overwhelmed co-worker a hand with his or her project. Before you run down to grab a sandwich or coffee, ask if anyone else wants something.” – Lynda Spiegel, career coach and founder, Rising Star Resumes

Engage with your co-workers

“Making friends at the office is simple if you take the time to truly engage with your co-workers by asking them questions and being genuinely interested in the answers. Most people love to talk about their interests, their children, their families, and if given the opportunity will open up about what is important to them.” – Bob Faw, CEO, Matchbox Group

Recognize others

“As you would in a friendship outside of work, recognize your co-workers who have gone above and beyond for you or the company. We’re all hardwired to appreciate praise and reciprocate it. Additionally, as you develop a reputation for recognizing the work of others, more people will want to work with you, giving you more opportunities to foster those budding friendships.” –Kelly Quinn, HR manager, Nurse Next Door

Watch your humor

“Sense of humor is very personal, and it can take a while for others to understand yours. Don’t be too out there with your jokes. Especially salty or questionable jokes. First impressions count, and this is not the time for racist, sexist or derogatory humor of any kind.” – Lara Steel, director, Work Life Innovations

Avoid negativity

“Stay positive. Most people don’t like to be around those that are negative all the time. What’s more, researchers have found that if you say good things about other people, people tend to remember you as having those positive qualities, too. For example, if you tell a new co-worker that your previous boss is a friendly, helpful person, they will likely walk away remembering you as somewhat friendly and helpful, too.” – Keith Rollag, associate professor of management and author, “What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations” (AMACOM, 2015)

Ask questions

“You must take the initiative to meet other people, even if you’re new to the organization. Talk about the weather, local teams and issues. If you’re new, ask questions. ‘Can you recommend a place to pick up a quick lunch?’ ‘Is there a walking trail nearby?’ ‘Where is the first aid kit?’ ‘What’s your favorite thing to do downtown [or] on the weekend?’” – Bonnie Scherry, director of corporate HR, G&A Partners


Having Friends at Work Leads to Longer Life

By Jeanette Mulvey, BusinessNewsDaily Managing Editor  

Having friends at work can not only make the day go by faster. It can also lead to a longer life.

That’s the finding of new research that found that a positive relationship with your co-workers has long-term health benefits.

Sharon Toker, a Tel Aviv University (TAU) researcher, said employees who believe they have the personal support of their peers at work are more likely to live a longer life.

“We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don’t have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays,” Toker said. “Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support.”

The researchers followed the health records of 820 adults who worked an average of 8.8 hours a day through a two-decade period. Those who had reported having low social support at work were 2.4 times more likely to die sometime within those 20 years

The researchers controlled for various psychological, behavioral or physiological risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and depression, and administered a questionnaire to participants, who were drawn from a wide variety of professional fields including finance, health care and manufacturing.

The study found that employees’ perception of emotional support at work was the strongest indicathy or of future health.

During the course of the study, 53 participants died, most of whom had negligible social connections with their co-workers. A lack of emotional support at work led to a 140 percent increased risk of dying in the next twenty years compared to those who reported supportive co-workers, she concluded.

Toker said many workplaces have lost their way in creating environments in which employees can create social relationships.

“Despite open concept offices, many people use email rather than face-to-face communication, and social networking sites that may provide significant social connection are often blocked,” the researchers said.

Toker suggests companies create coffee corners where people can congregate to sit and talk, informal social outings for staff members; an internal virtual social network similar to Facebook or a peer-assistance program where employees can confidentially discuss stresses and personal problems that may affect their position at work. Anything that encourages employees to feel emotionally supported would be helpful, she said.

The study has been published in the journal Health Psychology. TAU colleagues Arie Shirom and Yasmin Alkaly and Orit Jacobson and Ran Balicer from Clalit Healthcare Services.


Rude Behavior at Work Is Contagious … And Bad for Business

By Chad Brooks, Business News Daily Senior Writer  

Being rude to a co-worker can have a significant negative impact on your entire office, new research finds.

Workers who face rude behavior from a boss or peer are more likely to perceive rudeness in future dealings with co-workers, which in turn makes them more likely to be impolite in return, according to a University of Florida study.

“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” Trevor Foulk, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in management at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration, said in a statement. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”

While rude behavior by employees may seem innocuous, it can be extremely damaging to a business, Foulk said.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” he said. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

The researchers also discovered that even employees who simply witness rude behavior at work are more likely to be discourteous to others. In a second experiment, study participants watched a video of a rude workplace exchange and then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone.

The researchers found that these participants were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.

Foulk hopes the study will encourage employers to take rude behavior in the workplace more seriously.

“It isn’t something you can just turn your back on,” Foulk said. “It matters.”

The study, co-authored by University of Florida management professor Amir Erez and doctoral student Andrew Woolum, was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.


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