Seal the Deal: Selecting and Prepping References


So you’ve polished off your resume, you’ve updated and optimized your LinkedIn profile, you’ve started applying for positions, and the phone calls inviting you to interview are coming in. Congratulations. But there’s one area crucial to securing a job offer that many jobseekers don’t think about until the last minute: references. Because it can take time to track folks down, the best time to start thinking about your references is when you’re putting together your resume, not when you’re submitting applications.  You'll then have plenty of time and can avoid the last-minute "OMG--I need to find references" scramble.

By starting early, you'll have time to catch your references up on where you’re at in your career and to get their new or updated contact information.

Plus, having your references prepped and ready to speak on your behalf when they are requested speaks volumes about your professionalism.

Selecting Your References
Generally, a potential employer will want at least two of your references to be former employers. The advantage of preparing your references is that you can take the upper hand and identify the “best” references and control  the ones you offer the employer.

Select three to seven individuals to be your “preferred” references. They may be current or former managers or supervisors, co-workers, peers or team members, current or former customers of the company, vendors or suppliers, or people you have supervised.

If you don’t have recent work experience, references can be members of committees you volunteer with, or pro-bono clients (unpaid work experience is still work experience!). If you recently took a class, you can also ask professors, faculty members, and advisers.

Select references who know your work well, have seen you in action, and can speak to your abilities. If someone seems hesitant to serve as your reference, that can be  a red flag. Reluctant references can hurt more than they help.

Prospective employers are generally trying to evaluate your qualifications for the position, but also the “intangibles” that would make you a successful hire — and a good cultural fit — for the company. To that end, the reference checker (which may be the hiring manager) may ask about your communication, planning, decision-making, interpersonal, and leadership capabilities, as well as your technical skills and personal attributes/qualities.

Beware of Lukewarm References
Keep in mind: Not everyone you’ve worked for — or worked with — will be a good reference for you. You want a reference that can be as enthusiastic about you as you are about getting the job. Not all potential references will be able to provide this kind of stellar recommendation. But some of your references may be hesitant to say "no" to you directly if you ask.

Here's a way you can help let them off the hook, without having them turning you down directly. Instead of asking, “Will you be a reference for me?” Ask them, “Do you feel you know me well enough to serve as a reference for me?” If the answer is anything less than enthusiastic, you may want to reconsider using them.

Getting Permission and Prepping Your References
Once you’ve decided whom you would like to be your “preferred” references, you should always contact them  and ask permission to use them as a reference.

As mentioned earlier, you also want to update them on what you’ve been up to (especially if they knew you at a previous job) and what you’re looking for in your next job.

If they agree to serve as a reference, immediately send an email thanking them, and shoot them a current copy of your resume (or let them know you will be sending them a copy of your resume soon, if it is not yet completed).

If it's been a while since they agreed to be your reference, ask if it’s still okay to list them as a reference. Make sure they have time to respond if they are contacted. If they say “yes,” let them know you will contact them after the interview to keep them in the loop. Some other professional courtesies to apply to your references:

  • Keep references updated often so they are aware of what is going on with your search.
  • If you provide their name as a reference for a particular job, contact them right away after the interview to let them know.  Forward a copy of the job posting, if you have one.
  • Give them the company name, position title you’re seeking, and the name, title of the person who may be calling.
  • Let them know some of the critical challenges and responsibilities of the position so they will be prepared to discuss specific skills, experience, and achievements from their work with you.
  • Ask them to let you know if they are contacted about a particular opportunity. (When they do let you know, ask what kind of questions they were asked.) This not only allows you to find out what information was collected in the reference check, but also can prompt you to write them a handwritten note thanking them for their support.

After you land your new job (and send your references a thank-you letter for their role!), keep in touch with your references occasionally, sharing good news, information, and resources. Don’t wait to communicate with them until you need them for your next job search. By keeping in touch, you’ll improve your chances of having them in your corner when you need their endorsement for that next great opportunity.

Copyright © 2016 Resumes and Career Strategies. All rights reserved.


Did You Know ...

That customer service jobs top the list of positions that employers will be looking to hire more for in 2016? Here's some info on the top jobs being recruited for in 2016, from CareerBuilder's 2016 U.S. Job Forecast, and the percent increase over 2015 in the number of full-time employees being sought to fill them:  
1.    Customer Service (32%)
2.    IT (29%)
3.    Sales (27%)
4.    Production (24%)
5.    Administrative  (20%)
6.    Marketing (18%)

Read on for information on other hiring trends for 2016.


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