Will A Bad Reference Ruin Your Job Prospects?

illustrated by Michaela Early.
You've been applying for jobs, you've gone to several interviews, maybe you even feel like you're about to get an offer, but for some reason it doesn't progress beyond that. More than likely, the company simply chose to move forward with another candidate, but if it keeps happening job after job, it's possible your references aren't what they could be.
You don't want to assume that the only answer for not getting an offer is because of a bad reference. But if you really think something is holding you back, it's better to be thorough and go through every step. Channel your childhood love of Nancy Drew, and get to sleuthing! Grab a friend and ask them to look over your resume. Even better, offer to do the same for them if they're job hunting, too. (Team work makes the dream work, right?) However, if you're getting to the interview stage consistently, then it's probably not your resume, cover letter, or work portfolio.
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The stage at which you don't hear back can provide some a lot of insight. So if you've sailed through the interviews, smashed the copy test, and you're still noticing a disconnect between you and actually getting the job offer – it's time to review your references.
"I hear this all the time. People will say, 'Wow, I thought it was going really well. I thought they were going to make me an offer.' Then radio silence. It’s really confusing," said HR executive and career coach, Daisy Swan, who recommends following up with your references to see if they were contacted and how the conversation went.
"I think it’s pretty rare that someone loses a job because of a reference," insists career consultant, Susan Power. "Ask them how they would describe your work, and vet your references before you give out their names." Power explains that in her more than 15 years in career consulting, what stands out more is what a reference doesn't say. "If someone fails to get back to us as a reference for someone, that tells us a lot. A job is on the line and someone ignores your request for a reference, that’s usually sign that it would be a bad reference," she added.
If you find that your references aren't adding to the strength of your application, it might be time to get some new references. "Essentially, you just have to move on," explained Swan. "If it feels like someone has given you a poor recommendation, you just have to go with someone else." Find former colleagues or managers who can help you put your best foot forward. Stay in touch, and tell them about the jobs you're looking at so they know how to best speak to your experience. If they seem to be hesitant to give you a reference, you can find someone else who will be excited to talk you up to a potential future employer.
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