Let’s discuss how you, as the prospective employer, can advise the job seeker on how to come up with work-related references who will talk to you – what the job seeker should and should not say.
Here’s the basic premise: Most of the time, people we work with for any length of time (usually a minimum of six months) become our friends. They move beyond the more formal category of “boss,” “coworker,” or “people who work for me,” to a second, more personal category in human relations called “friends.” I can think of only one instance over the last 30-plus years when I’ve heard a job seeker claim that he didn’t have any friends at work. His contention was that he came to work, did his job, didn’t socialize with anyone, and, at the end of the day, went home. So much for his interpersonal skills!
Once that transition from “coworker” to “friend” takes place, those folks become eligible to qualify for the third category as “reference.” It doesn’t matter whether the prospective employee currently works with this person or not, as long as the period of their association stays within the last five-to seven-year time frame. References can include friends with whom the prospective employee worked who are now retired or who have taken other jobs or who may have moved to other locations or business units within the same corporation. Actually, people who have moved on are really the best ones for job seekers to recruit as potential references. Why? Because they won’t be constrained by a former company’s policy against commenting about other employees. Ordinarily, they will feel perfectly free to agree to serve as references.