Your references: are they really that important in the hiring process? In a word - absolutely. Unfortunately, professional references are perhaps the most overlooked and underutilized tool in most people’s employment arsenal.
If you’re not using your references to your best advantage, you may be making an inadvertent error in your search for new employment. An excellent resume may get your foot in the door for an interview, but it’s your references that will likely “seal the deal” and get you the actual job offer.
So ask yourself: Will the list of job references I have created ensure that stellar new job offer?
The professional reference-checking firm of Allison & Taylor offers these five tips on how to create a compelling reference list:
1. First, think about your list content. Will you always use the same references? Or does employment diversity require that you create more than one set, each tailored to your specific expertise in that field?
2. Who’s to say you can’t use a reference from your not-so-recent past? If it’s relevant - and the reference is willing - go all the way back to college if appropriate. In fact, a professor may make an excellent reference if their input is germane to the job you’re applying for.
3. Are your references really striving to “sell you” to employers? Are you offering up only the input of the HR department? They will generally give a canned “dates and title” response, which is not what potential employers really seek. Try to provide references that can actually speak to your abilities.
Better still, ensure you’re aware of what your reference will truly say about you by contacting a professional reference checking organization.
4. Is it always necessary to use a supervisor? Certainly not. Of course, someone who has seen your day-to-day performance is best - but don’t close off your options by assuming that person has to be your direct supervisor. You can certainly go above them - perhaps your supervisor’s boss can provide a more accurate (and flattering) reference. Then again, who reported to you? It’s often the people who work foryou that know you best.
5. What’s the correct format for references? Always provide the pertinent contact details. There’s nothing more frustrating for an employer than trying to contact references with incorrect or outdated information. If they have to hunt down your references, you’re much more likely to wind up in the discard pile - wrong information projects (your) lack of attention to detail.
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References should include company name, reference title, name, email, mailing address and phone. Also, include a quick blurb regarding your relationship to the reference. Once you’ve created a great list of references, stay in their good graces. Always follow the “Golden Rules of Job Reference Etiquette”:
1. Call your former bosses and ask them if they are willing to provide favorable job references on your behalf. As an additional courtesy, offer them an update on your career.
2. Let your references know each and every time you give out their contact information and thank them for their efforts.
3. Keep your positive references informed of your career and educational progress. They will be more inclined to see you in a stronger light as you progress.
4. Note that spending time communicating with your prospective employer takes valuable time from your references' workdays. If you plan to use these positive references over the years, you need to give something back. For instance, each time your reference supports you with a new prospective employer, send them a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) an email. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card for Starbucks, or offer to take your former boss to lunch/dinner.
5. If you win the new position, call or email your former boss and thank them again for their support. Also, let them know your new contact information.
Present your references in the best light and then treat them like the valuable commodities they are. They will truly be invaluable assets in your search for that new job.