Negotiating the Job or Rental Reference

September 16th, 2014 by Dodie

References are a critical requirement for anyone trying to get hired or become a new tenant in an apartment or property for rent. It’s one of two components always asked for so an employer or property owner can do some level of a background check before committing to a new person.

However, not every reference is a good one, nor do third parties want to always give a reference, seeing it as a chore. A person needs to pick the right parties for a good recommendation and to make contact ahead of time to negotiate that reference when it’s needed.

Making the Call

The first step is to identify who will be the reference. Not every past contact makes a good person to call. Ideally, it should be a contact that a person had a good experience with, preferably one with whom he has a good history in employment or as a prior tenant. Contacts like this will be the most likely to give a good reference when needed. Once you have identified them, then it’s time to communicate.

Never ask anyone to pose as a fake reference. Chances are, your prospective employer or landlord already knows how to validate references so, chances are, you’ll be found out and, chances are, well, you’ll just blow your chances.

Putting Out the Request – Starting the Negotiation

When you have identified your references, it’s good to be upfront about what’s expected. Those who want to give a good reference will say so and have no problem doing so. Those who don’t will hedge their language or will be clear and turn down the request.

Both are actually good responses. You want to know who can be relied on and who can’t. You don’t want a reference that is going to turn and do the unpredictable when the call actually gets made while you’re not in that conversation to know what happened. Many a job or vacancy was lost due to a bad reference that wasn’t fully checked out.

When connecting with a potential reference, the approach needs to be a soft-pressure tactic. Going hard ball usually just offends people and drives them away, the opposite of what is desired with a reference. Instead, a contact should start off with getting reconnected and a bit of small talk. Then get to the point but be clear about it and straightforward. For example,

“Hey Joe, how are things? How’s your son doing with his baseball team?…Good. Hey, listen, I just landed an opportunity with a school in Boston, so I’m going to be relocating. Obviously, I’m going to need to look for work there as well, and it would be really helpful if I could rely on you as a reference. Would that be okay with you? If not, just let me know, I understand.”


“Hi Mary, I really appreciated you as a landlord while being a tenant in your apartment/house. We got along so well, and I never had an issue with your property. I’m definitely going to recommend your place to my friends…I know I’m going to be leaving but I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I listed you as a reference for my new place when I find it. It would be very helpful in getting relocated properly when I move to LA.”

Do remember to show sincerity. For instance, you ask “How are things?” Do take a moment for Joe’s answer to sink in and perhaps talk a bit more about it with him rather than jump in immediately to your request. For all you know, he has just told you about someone’s passing and you do not even utter your condolences. Same thing when you’ve just given a praise like what we hypothetically gave Mary above. Jumping right in may give her the impression that you are only there to butter things up because you need a favor. You don’t have to let the conversation drag – you just need proper timing.

Insincerity could turn your potential reference off rather than have him commit to providing a positive feedback once someone does a background check on you. So put a little extra effort on working on your references.

Negotiating the Win

Ideally, a reference will want to know how he should respond. This is the opportunity to negotiate a reference ahead of time.

If you feel your reference might give a negative feedback due to a misunderstanding between you in the past or something you did or forgot to do, it is time to talk it out with him, settle your differences, and apologize for any shortcoming on your part. This might change his impression of you and a better reference feedback may be possible.

Of course, this is when you are required to give the details of your last employer or landlord, whom you did not have a good relationship with, or to list down each of your past employers/landlords, one or some of whom you’d rather leave out. You and them may come up with a compromise, a mutual agreement if you will, on what information your reference can possibly say in a background check. Hopefully he will honor his word.

Always make sure your references know what to expect. The more ambiguity that is eliminated, the better you will be going into a job or tenancy. You have greater strength in an interview or vacancy meeting because the references are a “slam dunk.”

Lastly, do a bit of homework ahead of time on your references. This will give you the best chances of getting picked by an employer or property owner. A good feedback is best determined when you have references you can rely on. Don’t ignore this resource.

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