References' Word Choice Could Hurt Your Career

Susan Hall
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How Not to Follow Up After a Job Interview

A rogues' gallery of infamously inappropriate follow-ups.

Research from Rice University suggests that if you want a letter of recommendation from a former colleague or boss, a conversation might be in order about what that reference should say.


Particularly if you're looking for a position in management, being portrayed as a "team player" might do more harm than good, reports Fortune. That sounds weird, doesn't it? But the research found that being described with words such as "kind," "helpful," "tactful," or "agreeable" could torpedo your chances to become a boss. More troubling, those words more commonly were used to describe women. And as The Wall Street Journal puts it, the more you're described "like a chick," the less favorably you will be perceived as a job candidate. And that's despite your work and educational experience, publications and honors.


And as Fortune's Anne Fisher pointed out, references tended to use more tentative language when recommending women, using phrases like "might make an excellent leader" to describe a woman, but saying "has proven himself as a leader" when referring to a man.


Better to be described in words such as "confident," "ambitious," "aggressive," "forceful," "independent," and "daring," at least according to this study.


In fact, your reference could help you most by saying that you excel at speaking assertively, influencing others and initiating new projects. That's assuming, of course, that you do.

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