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How To Choose (And Use) References

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Job Reference Check

You already know that having a great reference to back up your skills is imperative, but not everyone knows how they should go about getting one.

Your reference (or references) is often the last hurdle before getting the job offer, and missing information, bad references, or even too many references, can hurt your chances considerably.

First, omit the usual phrase at the bottom of your resume: “References available upon request”. Most every resume employs this method, but it’s really not what a potential employer wants or needs to see. It is understood that you would (and should) have references available. Have them ready to go at all times. If and when your interviewer requests them, present them. (For reference, here are some additional tips on background checks).

Get permission from anyone you hope to use as a reference before even listing them. This will ensure that they will take any calls from your potential employer, as well as remind them of your courteousness. In some cases, they might not have time to speak to hiring managers, and moving on to a more suitable reference can only help you.

Next, choose wisely. Your references needn’t be the ones with the flashiest titles. Supervisors who know you as an employee aren’t necessarily better references than trusted co-workers whom you have assisted on projects. Anyone who can speak of a direct connection involving your skills is the most desirable reference.

Choosing friends as references is not entirely unorthodox, and can help in certain situations. They can speak with authority on your personality, your drive, and your desires in other facets of your life. (Be sure work references are the bulk of your list, though.)

Once you’ve picked your best, pare down your list. Typically, three to five references will be enough, with five to seven being a better number for those seeking more senior positions. Be sure to choose those who would speak well of you, and have the experience to prove your worth. Omit potential references who might sound unprofessional, or those with whom you did not have a great working relationship. Include those whom you know will speak highly of your work together, and of your personality too.

Make sure your reference’s information is thorough and correct. Include full name, office phone numbers, and email addresses. Also, provide a brief explanation explaining your relationship. In the case of work-only references, stay away from listing things like home numbers, personal emails, and cell phones. Privacy is an issue, and the hiring manager may not be aware they are reaching out to a personal account. This looks bad for everyone, and is unprofessional on your part.

Don’t forget to prepare your references beforehand. Receiving a call regarding a co-worker from four years ago would be a surprise to anyone, and while they might remember you, they might not remember specifics. Reconnect to ensure they answer certain questions correctly. Every reference should be at least partially aware of how long you worked together, when you left and why, and specific projects you helped him or her with. Providing them with a current copy of your resume is also a great idea. They themselves may learn of some skills of yours that they had forgotten, and pass this information on to the hiring manager. If you know the name of the person who will be contacting them, pass that info on. The fewer surprises, the better.

One they have been contacted, thank each of your references. In many cases, the hiring manager’s great conversation with a reference is what clinched it for you. If you didn’t get the job, be sure to inform the reference that you will be using them again In any case, they have done you quite the favor. Staying in touch with, and being courteous to, all of your references will help you in job searches down the road.

Written by

Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

1 Comment to How To Choose (And Use) References

  • I sometimes have a hard time finding enough references – there have been a few jobs where I’ve done good work, but left abruptly due to new opportunities. In one or two cases, the manager was not very pleased. Is it acceptable to use a co-worker in lieu of a manager as a reference in these cases?