Developing Your Career

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Four Tips to Selecting the Best References

By Greg Simpson on August 19, 2014

Thanks to Internet search engines and social media, today’s employers have access to a treasure trove of information on prospective job candidates. And, even with all of this information, employers still check references. Unfortunately, some job candidates don’t do a great job of selecting the right people to act as a reference.

Start by compiling a list of former managers, co-workers or vendors who are able—and willing—to discuss your performance. Then choose wisely! A CareerBuilder survey reported that 62 percent of references listed on an application “didn’t have good things to say about the candidate” and 47 percent said these reference comments created a “less favorable opinion” of applicants.

Here are four tips for ensuring you’ll get a good reference:

  1. Lay the groundwork.  Before submitting someone as a reference, always secure permission beforehand. Contact your reference and discuss your job search objective and the type of position you’re seeking. Share your resume and point out the accomplishments you want to highlight.
  2. Use the 360° approach. Think beyond your former bosses and focus on references who can honestly attest to your performance. Vendors can be a good source for references, as are former co-workers, subordinates from your team, and even coworkers from community volunteer activities.
  3. Follow reference protocol. Companies shouldn’t be contacting your references prior to meeting you, so don’t send your references too early in the process. Create a separate reference sheet that includes each reference’s job title and business contact information.  Include a line that explains their relationship to you. (e.g., “Rick was the project manager who oversaw my work on the company’s billing initiative.”)
  4. Keep them in the loop. Let your references know where you’re interviewing, when they might be contacted and the type of position for which you’re applying. Once you land your new job, show your appreciation by acknowledging their assistance.

Yes, companies check references—in fact, as research shows, references can be overlooked game changers in the hiring process.

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