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Point of Reference

It’s 9 a.m. Do you know where your references are?

It’s not a trick question. In today’s turbulent job market, you may need to marshal your references at the drop of a hat or the drop of a pink slip or the drop of a pink hat. I don’t want to be depressing, but let’s be realistic here — before you reach the end of this paragraph, you could be looking for a new job.

Still here? Well, let’s call this a wake-up call. The plain fact is that everyone with or without a job needs to be ready with their resume and their references. It’s like in the good old days when we stocked our fall-out shelters with jerky and Jell-O. All it takes is a sudden attack of unemployment, and your paranoid preparations will pay off, big time.


Or so I was reminded when I received an email from Allison & Taylor. I guess both Allison and Taylor were busy, because my email came from someone named Jeff Shane, but the message still resonated.

“5 Tips to Creating a World-Class Employment Reference List” is the lagniappe offered by the firm, which has “been in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984.” (If you think reference-checking is a strange business to be in, consider that Allison & Taylor is headquartered in Rochester, Mich. What else are you going to do in Rochester, Mich.?)

If the idea of possessing a “world-class employment reference list” did not set my heart a flutter, which it definitely did, I was immediately hooked by a question in paragraph three — “Will the list of job references I have created ensure that stellar new job offer?”

It’s a question that should capture your attention, too, since your reference list includes your mailman, the checker in the 15-items or less aisle at the Piggy Wiggly, and Brutus, your pet schnauzer. And to be honest — your schnauzer really isn’t all that thrilled with your ability to reach monthly goals or effectively manage executive expectations.

Which brings us to tip No. 1, “First, think about your list content.” The resume wranglers at Allison & Taylor suggest that you have multiple lists of multiple references, “each tailored to your special expertise.” Makes sense. One group of references could attest to your ability to sleep through meetings without being noticed, while an entirely different collection of losers could testify to your ability to slip out of the office within minutes of returning from lunch, without management ever noticing you are AWOL.

Tip No. 2 gives you permission to “use a reference from your not-so-recent past.” You could use college roommates, if any of them were still talking to you, or a professor, if you ever went to class. I suggest you stick with the leader of your Cub Scout or Brownie pack. Yes, you were only 8 years old, but my heavens, in those days, you did show promise.

You want to make sure your references are “really striving to sell you” is the message of tip No. 3. For some job seekers, the selling process would involve expressing a long list of accomplishments. In your case, the best-selling references would have to cover up your long list of foul-ups, blunders and outright disasters. (One more reason to go with the schnauzer.)

Tip No. 4 asserts that you don’t have to use the people you work for. You can also use the people who work for you or you could, if you had risen high enough on the org. chart to have anyone work for you. Tip No. 5 reminds you to “provide the pertinent contact details.” This is important. For example, it is not enough to give the name of the federal penitentiary where your reference is confined. You’ll also want to provide the cellblock address and the prisoner’s number.

Once you have secured a reference, “you need to give something back.” Allison & Taylor suggest a thank you note or a Starbucks card or an invitation to take your reference to dinner. (One more good reason to use your incarcerated co-workers. They can’t easily slip out and drain your wallet at the Smorgy Bob’s.)

Frankly, I have a better idea. Why not use me as your reference? I’ll lie like a rug. I’ll rave about your accomplishments as if you actually had some. And when you get the job, you don’t have to compose a thank you card or buy me a Starbucks card. Just send cash.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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