6 Steps to Great References

So you’re looking for a new job, and you’re filling out application forms and going to interviews.  You’ve perfected your cover letter and resume, and have the right outfit picked out, but have you remembered the one last key ingredient to a successful job application?  That’s right, your reference list.

In your resume and cover letter, you’ve probably included some combination of your strengths, skills, experience, training and education.  But how can an employer be sure that what you’ve said in there is all true?   They look to those people who have worked with and know you, and who can comment on your abilities, experience and personality.   So, what does this mean then?  It means that your references can have a very big impact on whether you get the job…or not!

On that note, it’s time to think about how you go about choosing the right people to be your references.

1 – Who should be a reference?

In choosing appropriate references, you want to keep in mind what kind of relationship you have/had with them, whether or not they would say good things about you and whether they are qualified to speak about your skills, abilities, personality traits and so forth.  Remember, you want to choose those people who you believe will speak about you in a positive light.  One way of finding this out is by simply asking possible references what they would say about you and/or if they would give you a positive reference.

2 – Kinds of references

There are three main types of references: work, academic and personal/character references.

Work references should have worked with you as your supervisor or manager, and who have seen you in action.  In the case where you are looking for a new job while still currently working, it is not always a great idea to use a supervisor from your current job, unless they know and don’t mind that you are looking for different employment.  In the case where your current supervisor doesn’t know you are looking for other work, you can ask a trusted co-worker to be your reference.

Academic references should be from teachers, instructors or professors who have known you for some time and who can comment on your personality and the quality of your academic work.

Personal/Character references are usually only used if you are applying for your first job or if you have limited work experience.  They should be adults who are not related to you but who can vouch for your good character and can discuss your personality traits.  People to consider would be adults who you have worked with in a volunteer setting, a leader from your place of worship, neighbour, a long-time family friend or the parents of a close friend.

3 – Don’t forget to ask for permission!

So you’ve thought of some good people to act as your references, there’s just one more thing to do… ask for their permission.  You need to make sure that they are willing to act as a reference for you.   The best way to ask this is with a lot of “pleases” and “thank-yous,” letting them know just how thankful you are for their time and effort.  In the end, you want to have at least 3 or 4 references.

Once someone has agreed to vouch for you, you need to ask them for the contact details that they would like potential employers to use in getting a hold of them.  Keep in mind that they may not want you to give out their home phone number, personal cell phone number or personal email, so make sure that you have the appropriate details.

It is also very helpful for your references if you send them your most up-to-date resume.  This way they can have a better idea of what you have done in your past, including work, volunteer and hobbies.   It also helps to jog their memory when they receive calls about you.

4 – Get your list ready

Now that you’ve finalized your references, it’s time to prepare a neat list of their contact details.  Do not include your references on your resume, but instead put “references available upon request”, or write nothing, most employers will assume your references will be available when they ask.  The reason for this is that:

a) you have yet to go in for an interview.  You still need to see if the job is for you and whether or not you want to give them access to find our more about you.

b) If you are applying for a large number of jobs, you don’t want your references to be exhausted from having to speak on your behalf 30 times or more!  There is a limit to what your references will be willing to do for you.

Also remember you are only using those numbers, addresses and emails that your references have given you permission to use!  For each contact, you should include their name, relationship to you (i.e. manager, professor, etc), job title, contact phone number(s) and email (if applicable).

You will present this list after a job interview or when asked by an employer.  If asked in a job application to include references, you can include their name and relationship to you; however you should not include their contact details.  You can simply put “further details available upon request”.   This ensures that you have control over which employers call your references and when.  No employer should call your references without your permission and giving them a list of your references is in effect, doing just that.

5 – Stay in Touch and Say Thank You

Keep your references in the loop about how your job search is going and don’t forget to thank them after they have given you a reference, as they are lending a helping hand in your job search and will be more willing to act as a reference in the future.

6 – What kinds of questions will employers ask your references?

Here are some examples of questions employers might ask your references:

How long did he/she work for you?
What were his/her responsibilities?
Did he/she need close supervision?
How did he/she get along with others?
How well did he/she work as part of a team?
Why did he/she leave your employment?
Is there anything you can tell me that might disqualify him/her from this position?
Can you think of anything that I should know about him/her that I haven’t asked about?

There you have it…

Now the responsibity of having “references available upon request” just got a bit easier.  Please share with us if you have any questions about references.

This post was written by Verity Buskard, a career development practitioner.  It was originally written for the BCWIN Youth Site and is reposted here with permission.  

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