Recommendations, Referrals, References and What They Mean

I’ve been on vacation and traveling, which is why I’ve been quiet on this blog for way too long. Sorry about that. And, I’ve been deleting numerous emails with the subject, “Are you taking on new clients?” which is a referral-for-pay scheme.

I don’t participate in those. If I can’t refer people because I believe in them, I don’t refer them—which is like a reference. I also don’t participate in recommendations for pay. I do participate in recommendations for people with whom I’ve worked in the past and appreciated their work. If I think you’ve done something nice for me, I write you a recommendation on LinkedIn. I like it if you write me one. That’s reciprocity. It’s nice. It’s not required.

References are a different beast. If I work for you for a significant time, and you can judge my work, then I can ask you for a reference. When I ask you for a reference, and you agree, I expect a reference. (This is no different as a consultant than as an employee. I don’t always remember to ask. Sigh.) Sometimes, my consulting clients also ask for references, which I also provide. I try to ask for referrals for more consulting work, and I often forget, which means I’m not such a good marketer.

Some employees have a more difficult time getting references than I do. They work for organizations that have a foolish policy. HR’s policy is that a manager can confirm the start date, end date, title, and ending salary. Well, if you can only confirm that data, don’t expect a real reference for your candidates. I understand you don’t want a lawsuit. That’s a really good reason to avoid using layoffs to manage performance.

You need to check a reference to make a job offer. I don’t see how to extend an offer to a candidate without checking references, or making an offer contingent on reasonable references.

Recommendations, referrals, and references are all different. Recommendations are helpful. Often, they are reciprocal, but not always. Referrals, when they are not for pay, are quite useful. References are golden. Treasure them. Cultivate them.

2 Replies to “Recommendations, Referrals, References and What They Mean”

  1. Johanna,

    Isn’t one’s final salary at a given employer a confidential fact between you and that employer? Does asking them for a reference imply that they may disclose this? My feeling is that it doesn’t, unless explicitly mentioned in the request for a reference.

    1. Dominic, in the US, if you are looking for a job, a future employer is allowed to request the final salary you were paid. I don’t know the employment laws in the UK.

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