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EP 1203 Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter explains why reference letters are a waste of time and offers an alternative. 

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Today, we’re talking about reference letters. Many of you have the attitude that what you need to do before you start your job search is collect these letters of reference from former managers, people who know you, all these wonderful testimonials about who you are and what you’ve done.

And I want to be clear that there is a difference between a reference letter and references.

References are what a firm is going to be checking when they are ready to hire you. Reference letters are these things that, often, amateurs or beginners think they're supposed to collect to present with their resume. Frankly, no one reads reference letters. Everyone knows that they are baloney.

Don’t get me wrong but references are, too, but reference letters rarely deal with specific issues that employer might have.

When you get to references, you want to make sure that the former manager is able to speak clearly about who you are, what you did for them and that it is consistent with the stories that you told the hiring manager at the firm that you are interviewing with.

They want accuracy about dates, compensation, what you did and how you went about doing that, whether you are eligible for rehire, that they love to work with you again, what your successes were, what your real competencies work… these sort of things are important to the next firm. A reference letter, to them in most cases, is garbage.

So, line up your references. Don't asked them for reference letters. Let them know that you will be in touch with them right before they get a phone call about checking references to give them a heads up and to give them a sense of what to expect in the course of the reference check.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for what more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1200 episodes, “Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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