A recent survey conducted by OfficeTeam found that 21% of job seekers were no longer considered for a position by the hiring manager at the reference check stage of the interview process. I have been conducting reference checks for over 13 years and know that not all references are created equal. Some companies can only provide the basics (dates of employment, job title, and salary). Others will go into detail to discuss job duties, responsibilities, strengths, weaknesses etc. It is a misconception that employers are only allowed to give positive references. Providing a bad reference is not illegal as long as it is accurate.
- Ask the reference for permission to be contacted by your potential employers. You do not want them to be caught unaware and say, “John Smith who?”
- Former managers, co-workers or clients typically provide references. If you are new to the work place, then providing personal references from professors is appropriate. (Do not provide your parents as references.) I typically request at least three references of which two are managers and one a colleague or client.
- Keep in touch with your references so that they know what is going on with you. It is important not burn bridges with your employer since a glowing reference can help you land your next job.
Potential employers typically do not contact current employers for references without your permission. I always ask the candidates for permission before I contact references. This will give them time to notify their references to expect a call from me.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review addresses the question whether good leaders should swear. I always drew the line between swearing socially and professionally. My grandmother would have washed my mouth out with soap had I dared utter any profanities near her. Hence I was always careful to only swear in front of friends and never ever in front of teachers, clients, co-workers or bosses. I was what one would describe a “social swearer”. I never realized how foul my language was until I met a boyfriend’s father who wanted to know why he was dating a young lady who cursed like a sailor. (No offense to sailors.) Times have changed and people change. Now, I am particularly sensitive to swearing considering that I have a toddler. I do not want to be known as “the” parent who taught the other kids expletive laced phrases. It is almost second nature to me now to tell friends to use the word “fun” instead of the f bomb.
I always thought that swearing in the workplace was off limits until I accepted a temp job in New York City. I supported a marketing executive for a consumer package product for a week. I blushed when I overheard her use colorful language to tell a colleague what she was going to someone who dared crossed her path. I have not encountered anyone else who threw profanities in the workplace as casually as that former manager. I think that there are many other ways to earn respect (or fear) from others that does not involve swearing. Respecting others and treating them as human beings is certainly one of them. I am a big fan of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was first published in 1937 but its principles will never go out of favor.
An acquaintance was telling me that she was aghast at a senior executive who regularly used profanity as common. While that may not be too shocking in certain industries, she worked for a family oriented company. I agree that there is a time and place for everything. I do not think that many people would think twice for “annoyance swearing” (cursing when a big heavy object falls and injures your foot or you lost a document that you have been working on for over an hour). Cursing should be left at home.
What do you think?
An article from the Wall Street Journal that discussed using guerilla tactics to land an internship made me think about some of my recent hires.
- Social media: One of my followers on Twitter referred me to a candidate who I met for coffee and hired three months later.
- Colleges/universities: A college event led to an informational interview. The candidate was hired after graduation.
- Job fair: The hiring manager was impressed after meeting a couple of students at a job fair. They were hired a few months later.
- Networking: Several referrals from the Hill & Knowlton network of current and former employees.
- Corporate Website: A compelling and well written resume may still open doors. I hired a couple of candidates after meeting them for an informational interview.
These are just a few examples of candidate who made the cut. It does not include some impressive candidates who were in the running but we decided not to pursue for various reasons. The adage, “There is more than one way to skin a cat” comes to mind. There is more than one way to get yourself in front of the hiring manager and/or recruiter. You never know how that next job opportunity will find you.
Recent events have inspired me to share my knowledge about references for the job seeker. Here are a couple of pointers:
1) Do not list references on your resume – It is assumed that a company will ask for your references if you are one of the finalist or are on the verge of receiving a job offer. There is no need to write “references will be provided upon request” because it is assumed that most employers will ask for them. Save that line to tout your accomplishments instead. Most companies will ask you to list references on their application form.
2) Your parents are not references - Believe it or not, a parent called me to convince me that their child walks on water and should be invited for an interview. It is not good to list your parents as a reference for a couple of reasons. First, most parents are not impartial and think that their kids really do walk on water. Second, helicopter parents can send the wrong message to potential employers. If your sole job is working for your parent’s company, then try to ask someone else who worked for the company to act as your reference. You could also provide college professors as reference if you do not have a lot of professional experience.
3) Personal references – Some employers will ask for 2 professional references and 1 personal reference. A professional reference is someone you have worked for in the past whether it is a former manager or colleague. You would have been paid by the company or worked as an intern or a volunteer. A personal reference is someone you know on a personal basis. A personal reference is usually someone you have known for a long time who can speak to your character. I prefer contacting professional references since they tend to be more objective. If you do not have a lot of work experience, it is ok to list one personal reference.
4) Professional references – Most employers prefer to speak with former managers or colleagues to find out what it is like to work with you. Make sure to check with your references before giving their names to potential employers. Give your references a heads up so that they know to expect a call. There is nothing worse than having your references say, “John who?” to potential employers. If you are applying for a project management position, then you might want to tell references to discuss your role in the XYZ project especially if it is relevant to your new role.
5) Most recent references - If it is at all possible, try to provide your most recent and/or most relevant references. Most companies realize that it might be difficult to get references for your current employer especially if your current employer is unaware that you are seeking new opportunities. Try to provide references for companies that are on your resume. It really makes a potential employer wonder what other things you are hiding or left out on your resume if you can only provide references for companies that do not exist on your resume.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Job applicants who apply for every job posting on a company’s career site always puzzled me. The job posting clearly states, “Must have at least 10 years experience in X.” Yet applicants continue to submit their resume even though they do not have any experience at all. I asked other recruiters for their thoughts on the subject. One of them suggested that these applicants probably received poor advice that it would not hurt them to apply. In fact, they suspected that some even encouraged that they apply for every opportunity just to increase the chances of their resume being viewed.
As a recruiter, I have to wonder about the candidate’s attention to detail. They clearly are not reading the job description. At the very least, they are not able to follow instructions. The applicant tracking system that I use also allows me to see every single job that this candidate has applied to in our company. When their cover letter states that they really want to work in health care yet they apply for jobs in public affairs or technology, then it really makes me wonder about their sincerity as well.
There are better ways to get your resume viewed by recruiters or hiring managers. I was reading this article this morning which gives great advice. Forbes provides the top 7 things that you can to get a job:
- Beef up your resume by using strong active verbs and numbers that demonstrate results.
- Write a killer cover letter to explain why you’re a good fit for the job by stating what can not be seen on your resume.
- Focus your job search by targeting specific companies and/or industries that appeals to your passion.
- Be smart about social media by cleaning up your online profiles and using Twitter and/or LinkedIn.
- Ace your interview by learning as much as you can about the company and preparing at least 3 questions.
- Stay in the game by refreshing your skills or developing new ones.
- Network your way help open doors and opportunities.
I have received several amusing phone calls and voice mails. It was not the content that I found amusing but rather its lack of content. A recruiter spends most of their day on the phone or meeting candidates in person. This means hundreds of candidate interactions in a year. If you are going to leave a message, here are some suggestions to make sure that your phone call/voicemail gets the attention that it deserves:
- Properly introduce yourself - This means leaving your full name. Leaving your first name is not enough especially if you have a common name. There are times when a recruiter could be speaking with multiple candidates with the same first name.
- Leave your phone number – Even if I contacted you, the digits might have been garbled or they have may have been background noise. Say the numbers slowly and leave it twice. (A trick that I learned back in my past life as a sales person.) I have had instances where I have had to play the message over and over to understand the numbers.
- Get to the point - State your name, the reason for the call and leave a number. The premise seems so simple but I can not tell you how many rambling messages I have received over the years.
- Leave a message at work – If you have a choice between calling an office number and a cell phone number, then I would recommend calling the work number first especially if this is a cold call. (You have not spoken with this person in the past or you do not have a mutual acquaintance who introduced you.) If you have a scheduled appointment but are running late, then the cell phone would be acceptable.
- No phone calls please – Some recruiters specifically write “No phone calls” please on their job postings. This means that they do not want unsolicited phone calls. Please respect the request. Recruiters are often inundated with phone calls and simply can not return every single unsolicited call. If your background is suitable for the position, then you will receive a phone call.
It is commendable to show a potential employer just how eager you are about a job. Candidates can sometimes cross the line between stalking and being diligent. Here are some examples of stalking:
- Calling, emailing, texting, DMing etc. to ask, “Did you receive my resume?” – Depending on the company or level of the job opening, recruiters may receive a couple of hundred applications sometimes more. If you submit a resume, the company should at least acknowledge that they received your resume even if it is only an automated response. Unfortunately, not all companies even do that. I personally see and review every resume that gets submitted. If you are suitable for the job, then you will receive a call. I will even pull aside resumes of candidates who might be suitable for future opportunities in which case you might get a call a few weeks or months down the road. Caveat: If you know someone in the company, it would be acceptable to reach out to them know that you submitted your resume. They will hopefully notify the recruiter of your application who will at minimum review your resume. Depending on company policy regarding employee referrals, hopefully you will at least get a phone interview or an interview.
- Following up without an appointment. – It is a bit presumptuous to expect that a recruiter is sitting around twiddling their thumbs just waiting for someone to drop by unannounced and expect to be offered an interview on the spot. Caveat: It is acceptable to drop something off at the front desk such as a resume or a thank you card but do not expect or demand to meet with someone.
- Contacting everyone in the company. – I once had a candidate who cold called the CEO, CFO, hiring manager and recruiter after submitting his resume online. Some of these people were not involved in the hiring process. The ones who were involved were turned off by his aggressiveness and poor judgment.
These examples do not fall in the appropriate category:
- Following up a week or two after an interview. The recruiter or hiring manager should give you a time line or their hiring process. If they said that they will call you in a week or two with a decision, then you should follow-up with a phone call or email. Closing the loop is the least that a recruiter or hiring manager should do after you took the time to interview with them. Unfortunately, not everyone lives by this code and only contact candidates that they are interested in pursuing.
- You got rejected for one job but are suitable for another job at the same department or company. If the job is posted online, then apply online. Send a follow-up call or email to give the recruiter or hiring manager a heads up. If they feel that you are suitable for the position, then they will call you.
I’m sure that I will add other items to this list. What do you think?
Cherry blossoms and crocuses are often the harbingers of spring for some people. Requests for informational interviews was my mental trigger that spring or spring break is here. I can honestly tell you that I spent my spring breaks in high school and college either working or traveling. In hindsight, I probably should have thrown a couple of informational interviews in my itinerary. I have found that is a good way to meet strong out of state candidates who happen to be visiting San Francisco. This is not an open invitation to every student out there to call or email me for an informational interview. I do not sit by my phone or email waiting for someone to contact me for an interview. I will make an exception to students who are referred to me by a trusted source. The other exception are for students who have relevant public relations agency experience. How are you spending your spring break?
“You’re only as good as your word” was a mantra that was always at the back of mind when I worked in sales a lifetime ago. If I promised a customer that I would follow-up in a week, then I made sure that it happened. As a recruiter, I always try to close the loop and give feedback one way or another once I hear back from the hiring manager to candidates who I have screened over the phone or in-person. Candidates always appreciate the call even if they did not make it to the next stage of the interview process. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to take this mantra to heart. For example, I get requests from college students who are conducting research for a paper. I agree to answer their questions on the condition that they give me a copy of their paper. I received an email the other day from one such student who kept their word. It gives me hope that some people understand the importance of the value of their word.
I realized how much discussion there has been about the flu pandemic when my daughter asked me if I had the swine flu when I was at home battling a cold. The swine flu fear erupted into violence in New York City’s D train when a woman coughed without covering her mouth. Although I do not condone violence, it is certainly understandable for people to be concerned especially as the number of swine flu related deaths appear to increase. I was not sure whether or not to stock on up hand sanitizer in preparation for the hand sanitizer shortage as I recall hunting for them in three stores back in May only to find shelves empty of hand sanitizers.
The FDA has begun cracking down on companies are cashing in on the swine flu frenzy by promising false swine flu remedies. Grandmothers in Texas are trying to go the back door of face mask companies in the middle of the night even though face masks are not 100% fool proof. The CDC says that very little is known about the effectiveness of using a face mask or respirator. Folks are stocking up on body suits, stocking up on food for their underground bunker. Technology companies are even monitoring social media chatter to track flu outbreaks. Google Flu Trend predicts flu outbreaks based on aggregated search data.
There is definitely a lot of hype out there but the threat of a pandemic is real. The swine flu can spread pretty quickly rendering entire office floors sick within days. A friend came down with the swine flu. The first symptom in his office appeared on Monday and by Friday 7 out of 10 in his group caught it.
What can you do as an individual to protect yourself from swine flu? Here are some recommendations to keep in mind:
- Sick people should stay at home if you have flu symptoms such as fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea etc.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds or with an alcohol based hand rub
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to help prevent the spread of germ
- Stay home for at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100° F [37.8°C]), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing making sure to put your used tissue in the waste basket. (Do not forget to clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.)
- If you do not have a tissue handy, then cough into your elbow rather than your hands to help reduce the spread of germs
As human resources professionals, you may want to consider creating a pandemic plan. The CDC website provides guidance
to employers including the following:
- Consider liberalizing sick, personal and family leave policies at least temporarily
- Provide training, education and informational material about business-essential job functions and employee health and safety
- Ensure that high contact areas such as door knobs, door handles, refrigerator doors, desk, keyboards, telephones etc. are cleaned regularly
- Encourage employees to be vaccinated
- Provide access to hand soap, hand sanitizers, tissues etc. to employees
- Develop plans for operating at reduced capacity
- Consider canceling non-essential business travel and advise employees about possible disruption while traveling overseas
- Consider allowing telecommuting and/or teleconferencing
- Prepare for temporary closing of schools or daycares
- Post and distribute literature to educate employees about the flu
- Consider providing a flu kit for your employees
There are many other ways that you can help prepare for the flu pandemic both as individuals and as employers. This might involve changing your habits or routines slightly during the flu season. I was reading an article that talked about an office that restricting pot luck during the flu season. The company required food to be individually wrapped. My colleagues were joking about the swine flu as we celebrated birthdays and anniversaries with cake. To blow or not to blow the candles, that was the question.