Creating Better Job References
Your references: are they really that important in the hiring process? In a word - absolutely. Unfortunately, professional references are perhaps the most overlooked and underutilized tool in most people’s employment arsenal.
If you’re not using your references to your best advantage, you may be making an inadvertent error in your search for new employment. An excellent resume may get your foot in the door for an interview, but it’s your references that will likely “seal the deal” and get you the actual job offer.
So ask yourself: Will the list of job references I have created ensure that stellar new job offer?
The professional reference-checking firm of Allison & Taylor offers these five tips on how to create a compelling reference list:
1. First, think about your list content. Will you always use the same references? Or does employment diversity require that you create more than one set, each tailored to your specific expertise in that field?
2. Who’s to say you can’t use a reference from your not-so-recent past? If it’s relevant - and the reference is willing - go all the way back to college if appropriate. In fact, a professor may make an excellent reference if their input is germane to the job you’re applying for.
3. Are your references really striving to “sell you” to employers? Are you offering up only the input of the HR department? They will generally give a canned “dates and title” response, which is not what potential employers really seek. Try to provide references that can actually speak to your abilities.
Better still, ensure you’re aware of what your reference will truly say about you by contacting a professional reference checking organization.
4. Is it always necessary to use a supervisor? Certainly not. Of course, someone who has seen your day-to-day performance is best - but don’t close off your options by assuming that person has to be your direct supervisor. You can certainly go above them - perhaps your supervisor’s boss can provide a more accurate (and flattering) reference. Then again, who reported to you? It’s often the people who work foryou that know you best.
5. What’s the correct format for references? Always provide the pertinent contact details. There’s nothing more frustrating for an employer than trying to contact references with incorrect or outdated information. If they have to hunt down your references, you’re much more likely to wind up in the discard pile - wrong information projects (your) lack of attention to detail.
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References should include company name, reference title, name, email, mailing address and phone. Also, include a quick blurb regarding your relationship to the reference. Once you’ve created a great list of references, stay in their good graces. Always follow the “Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette”:
1. Call your former bosses and ask them if they are willing to provide favorable job references on your behalf. As an additional courtesy, offer them an update on your career.
2. Let your references know each and every time you give out their contact information and thank them for their efforts.
3. Keep your positive references informed of your career and educational progress. They will be more inclined to see you in a stronger light as you progress.
4. Note that spending time communicating with your prospective employer takes valuable time from your references' workdays. If you plan to use these positive references over the years, you need to give something back. For instance, each time your reference supports you with a new prospective employer, send them a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) an email. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card for Starbucks, or offer to take your former boss to lunch/dinner.
5. If you win the new position, call or email your former boss and thank them again for their support. Also, let them know your new contact information.
Present your references in the best light and then treat them like the valuable commodities they are. They will truly be invaluable assets in your search for that new job.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.