Absolutely fabulous references are an under appreciated aspect of the job search. Typically, and perhaps rightfully so, a job seeker’s first concern is putting together an effective résumé. Compiling an “A” list of references is often an afterthought. And yet, when the pressure is on, references can make or break you. Wise job hunters put some thought into their choice of references.
Who should be on your reference list?
Here is a list of possibilities: former managers or supervisors, customers or clients, vendors, co-workers, direct reports, and professional colleagues. In the event that you are conducting your first job search or are re-entering the market after several years you may want to include community leaders or other professionals from your social network. Do all of these people need to be on your reference list? No, however, providing a range of viewpoints can provide a balanced, fuller spectrum picture.
Now, who should you select from among the possibilities?
Ask yourself who is articulate, sincere, and can speak credibly about you and your work. Who respects you, has an appreciation for your contributions, is approachable and easy to reach? You can’t afford to have any lukewarm references. Everyone on your reference list should think you are the best thing since the laptop computer.
Always, always, always ask each person if you can use them as reference before you give their name to a potential employer! The last thing you want is a reference who is surprised to discover at a critical moment that he or she is your reference.
What should you include on the reference sheet?
At a minimum list their name, title, company, and contact number. You can also include their relationship to you: former manager, client, colleague, etc. Or you can be more formal and include a short paragraph from each person describing their experience working with you. If you choose this route, have someone else interview each reference and make notes about their experience working with you. Send the short paragraph back to your reference for final approval before making it part of your job search portfolio.
Give each reference the most current version of your résumé and offer to review it with them and answer any questions they may have about its contents. It is in your best interest to fully prepare your references and clarify any experience with which they may be unfamiliar. When the call comes in from a potential employer you want each reference to feel absolutely confident when describing your background and recommending you for hire.
When a potential employer asks for your references hand them the list; suggest that while they are encouraged to call any and all references, you would be happy to identify those references who can speak most effectively about aspects of your experience that are particularly relevant to the position for which you are being considered.
Immediately after leaving an interview in which you provided references, call each person on the list. Alert them to the possibility of being called by a company representative and provide some background on the position for which you are being considered. This gives your reference a heads up about taking a call from someone they wouldn’t otherwise recognize or at the very least returning the call promptly.
Finally, when you land that great new job, thank each reference for his or her part in your success and offer to return the favor.