4 people you should never use as job references
Providing references is part of the job search, but there are some people you shouldn't even bother approaching.
Make sure the right people are saying the right things about you.
Evan Banul is COO of Industrial Motor Power Corp. and handles all the company’s hiring. He says he once called three references for an applicant, and each one was a nightmare. The first was the applicant’s “very crude brother.” “After a five-minute conversation of F-bombs and raving about how close they were, I did not get any insight into this applicant,” Banul says.
The second reference was surprised to receive Banul’s call. “The third person I called was their past employer, who shared how if I hired this person, I would be shooting myself in the foot. I had a hard time getting off the phone as they kept sharing new insight into how bad of an employee this person really was. Needless to say, I did not call this person for an interview.”
References can make or break your chances of landing a job, so be careful about who you suggest prospective employers call to learn more about you. Here are some people you should never use as job references.
“We’ve all seen a family member slide their way onto an applicant’s reference section, but the absolute funniest reference I have ever received was someone’s biological parent,” says Timothy Trudeau, CEO of Syntax Creative.
Hiring managers generally assume your parents can’t give an objective view of your work history or how you’ll behave as an employee, so don’t put them down as references. That goes for all family members, as they will most likely think you’re pretty great, Banul says. “We are interested in your prior work experience, work ethic and your moral character. Your family’s opinion will always be biased.”
Anyone who fired you
A reference who fired you will either say nothing at all because they have nothing nice to say, or they will talk about how you were a terrible employee, Banul says. “It is safe to assume that if you did not leave on good terms, then they should not be used as a reference.”
Friends or roommates
If you haven’t worked with your friends, they aren’t going to be able to give the kind of information potential employers are looking for. Sewell Development Corp. CEO Preston Wiley says his company hires a lot of part-time college students. “It's pretty common for people to list people with impressive titles as references who we can easily discover are actually their roommates,” he says.
Applicants should just be honest about who their references are and how they know them, or don't provide references at all if the employer doesn’t ask for them.
Anyone who's not expecting a call
Don’t use a reference who you have not prepared to receive a call from a prospective employer, says Cheryl Palmer of Call to Career. “Good references are willing to help you, but they may inadvertently hurt you if you have not prepared them for the call that they will get from potential employers. You should notify your references when you are going for job interviews, because you don’t know how quickly the employers may call.” Give your references your most recent resume as well so they are up-to-date on what you’ve been doing.
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In general, including references in your cover letter is not recommended. However, there are some key exceptions to this rule. Here are some tips to help you consider whether it is appropriate or beneficial to mention your references when you're writing a cover letter.
The primary reason to include a reference in your cover letter is because a person known to the company you're applying to — and even better, known to the hiring manager — recommended that you apply for the job. Include this kind of reference in the opening of your cover letter. When a hiring manager who knows Jane Smith well reads "Jane Smith recommended I contact you" in the first part of your cover letter, he is likely to pay special attention to your resume and application.
When you use this tactic, make sure the person whose name you are dropping really knows the people at the new company and is on good terms with them. Ask permission before using anyone's name. If your contact actually works at the company where you are applying, consider copying them on your cover letter to make it clear that you're using their name with permission. This type of reference, casual as it may seem, is actually one of the most effective ways to approach a specific job search. If you have this type of contact available, make sure to use it wisely.
You should also include references in your cover letter if the company specifically asks for them. While this is unusual, you should always comply with any specific requests made by a company in the job application process. Include the references within the body of the letter if you can do so gracefully. It is also acceptable to list them at the bottom of the letter with their contact information or to provide a separate sheet of references.
If you are not specifically asked for references, or if you do not have a relevant contact at the company, do not include any references in your cover letter. Doing so comes across as unprofessional and possibly a little needy. Since references are usually requested at the interview stage of the job application process, providing unrequested references sends a message that you expect to be asked to interview. In addition, when you provide references without being asked for them, you are handing out your references' contact information in ways which the people recommending you may not appreciate — and to which they have not agreed.
Decide whether to include references in your cover letter on a case-by-case basis. Every cover letter is different. In some cases, including your references could be exactly the right thing to do. If you have a contact at the company, get in touch with him to ask permission to include his name in your cover letter.
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