The Importance of Staying in Touch with Past Bosses to Land Your Dream Job

My father always told me, “As a man, if you work hard, everything will work itself out. You may be tall or short, thin or fat, have hair or lose your hair…it doesn’t matter because everything will be OK in the end. Keep your discipline and work hard the rest will work itself out.” These are words to live by since there is so much truth to this. Working hard and being productive is vitally important to our psyche regarding everything from self esteem, outlook and overall happiness. Working hard means you are serving others which is a cornerstone value to being a fully actualized person. Another by product of working hard is that contribute to the success of your company and consequently the success of your boss. When you produce, your boss moves up. And when your boss moves up, your boss will promote you. If your manager leaves, they will take you to the next company with more money and responsibility, making us recruiters poor. If they can’t take you with them, they will speak well of you out of gratitude for a job well done. This reference conversation for one of your future employers might make the difference between getting a job and not getting one. As a recruiter working in the automotive quality field, we also find that the ability to speak with past bosses or managers is critically important to making an excellent placement. We know the positives of references. What are the pitfalls?

I’ve been asked, “Jon, how useful are references anyway since everyone can always find someone who will say nice things about them.?” That is true. However, not everyone has a boss that can say nice things about them. Especially if they are not great performers or have a difficult personality to get along with. The older a person gets, the more potential bosses there should be for references. But don’t kid yourself, just because a person is older doesn’t necessarily mean they have bosses they stay in contact with.

I also am a big believer in former bosses and managers giving accurate and fair references. You don’t fake your way into high level roles. And you certainly don’t destroy your reputation that you’ve worked so hard on by lying for a sub-tier performer. Do they tend to focus on the positives in the reference check? Of course they do. with the majority of references I do, the former manager calls me back quickly and often says, “Bob, did such a good job for me back at Bosch, I wanted to call you back as soon as possible.”

What do I do when I get a bad reference? And believe me, I’ve done them as my jaw almost breaks from hitting the desk. When this happens, which thank goodness isn’t often, run isn’t even the word…flee is more like it. If anyone is that stupid to mention a person who they did not perform well for, or is a jerk, an idiot or both, I’ll kindly allow my competition to place them. With our decades of experience, we fortunately can spot these people rather easily. So, who are they?

Job Hoppers. These are the folks who’s resume looks like a piece of Swiss Cheese. For whatever reason, and trust me we don’t waste much time psychoanalyzing them, the person just can’t seem to find a company where they can be happy and produce. If you are one of these people, you need to take a real good look in the mirror because is highly unlikely that every company you have worked for has some kind of major malfunction. No one is that unlucky.

Contract-itis. This is the job hopper who tries to mask their quirks and issues with constantly moving around from contract to contract. They don’t really feel bad about it since ‘it is the nature of the business.’ The problem I find is when I ask, “Which one of these companies upon hearing about your departure made a move to keep you. If so, why didn’t you take them up on their offer?” Answers are varied and colorful as you might imagine. The bottom line that we have to ask ourselves as a recruiter is, “Do I buy this person’s story and should I risk my reputation on them?” If we do buy their story, we then ask for references. Case closed.

Private people. This is the one group that can always be challenging. There are just some folks who believe work and personal relationships should be kept totally separate. Separate to a point that once a person departs a company, they don’t even bother to ask or stay in contact with their past boss. Their rationale is…they are a past boss…what is there to talk about?

People who simply don’t have references or can’t give them. With the amount of movement in the automotive quality field, this doesn’t happen too often. There is very little ‘new blood’ in our industry. Therefore, I don’t hear things like I used to in the 1990s like, “I’ve been here for 4-5 years and all my references are people I work for currently.” There are also some folks who’ve had bosses die or simply disappear from contact. However, we can just look at their longevity and promotions within the company to make an informed decision. Always remember, a great interviewee can be a senior quality engineer and land a job at another company as a quality manager. However, a senior quality engineer working at a particular company can’t fool their way to an internal promotion. It just doesn’t happen unless you happen to be the kid of the owner.

Bottom Line. Work hard and keep in contact with past bosses. Strong written references are a key tool recruiters like me use on a regular basis to not only help get you in the door for an ideal opportunity, but also to help separate you from the crowd when there is a competitive interview process. So, keep your former bosses’ numbers and you might even want to send them a Christmas card every year- it just might help you land the job of your dreams!