Career Planning

12 Tips to Make the Most of Your Job References

Elizabeth Hoyt

October 02, 2016

12 Tips to Make the Most of Your Job References
Get the most out of your job references - it can make all the difference in obtaining the job!
When it comes to asking for a job reference, there’s a method that borders on an art form. But, it’s necessary to do so because anytime you’re looking for a job, whether you’re in the job search now or in the future, you’re going to be asked for references. And, it’s always good to have them in your back pocket. Depending on who you’re planning to ask, the situation can vary. A former employer or colleague, for example, is handled quite differently than say, character references such as professors or fellow volunteers. Remember, whomever you decide you’d like to use as a job reference must give their consent first. You never want someone to appear unprepared or caught off-guard when contacted by a potential employer as it would reflect upon you as both unprofessional and unprepared.
The following are some tips to help you get the most out of your job references:

1. Always Pick Professional Over Personal

When it comes to job references, the rule to follow is always professional references trump personal references. It makes sense seeing as you’re applying for a professional position, not to be someone’s friend or relative. That means you should never ask a friend, roommate or relative to be your reference – stick to people who can speak to your work ethic and skills. If a colleague also happens to be a friend, that’s a different story.
The “personal” references you ask should never be too personal, like family or friends, because those people are always considered biased. People you volunteer with, community leaders, professors make good personal references – not your buddies.

2. Ask the Right References for Each Specific Job Position

One of the key mistakes people make in terms of job references is maintaining the same job references no matter which job position they are pursuing.
Similar to your resume and cover letter, you should tailor who you use as job references to the position you are seeking. Think about the skills and qualities that the job title you are looking to obtain requires and choose references that can speak to those specific qualities.

3. Address the Current Boss Issue

If you’re currently employed and are not including your current boss as a reference, make sure to explain why to your employer. Most likely, it’s because they aren’t aware that you’re currently searching for a new job, which most potential employers will understand. Not addressing why you’re not including your current boss, however, might send up red flags to your potential employer, so it’s always best to address the issue.

4. Don’t Ask Someone Over E-mail

Think about it: you’re asking someone for a very personal favor and you can’t even pick up the phone and call? Better yet, why not take them to lunch or out to coffee? It’s important that you maintain a strong personal relationship with anyone who you would like to be your reference, especially because they could hold the key to your future job opportunities. Additionally, maintaining contact could open the door to future opportunities (ahem, networking) so a little added effort goes a long way.

5. Tell Your References Where You’ll Be Using Them as a Reference

People don’t like to be caught off-guard and being interviewed as a job reference is no exception. Let your references know where you’re applying so that, if they receive a call, they’ll already recognize the name of the company and know that’s why they are being contacted. If you know the name of the person who may be contacting your references, it’s also helpful to share that information as well. This will benefit you, as well, because it will help your reference come across as more prepared to take the call.

6. Give Your References Details of the Job(s) to Which You’re Applying

It’s important to give each of your references descriptions of the jobs you’re apply for, including job specifications, what they are looking for in a job candidate and information about the company. That way, your references can tailor their responses to speak to your strengths that apply to the particular position and company you’re applying for, rather than giving generic responses.

7. Send Your References Your Resume

Once someone has agreed to be your reference, send them your updated resume so that they are able to speak to your experiences, talents and skills. While they may be able to do so without your resume, it’s helpful to jog their memory on all of your past experience and have a list of your attributes in front of them. It’s difficult to recall someone’s personal history on the spot, so they will likely appreciate having it on hand.

8. Ask for a General Letter of Reference from Each Reference

Great! They agreed to be your job reference. Usually, that ends with someone contacting them from the job to which you are applying. It’s also true that employers generally prefer to speak to references. However, it’s smart to ask for a general reference letter from each reference that agrees to be your job reference from now until the end of time. But, you must make sure these letters include each references name, title and contact information. Otherwise, employers don’t know who wrote the letter (and, honestly, could even assume you wrote it yourself)! That way, you can build up a stock of reference letters to include with your resume and cover letter, which will look great on your behalf. It also means you won’t need to go back to them each time you’re applying for a position. You could just provide the employer with the letter and updated contacted information, if necessary. Or, you can save your reference letters for an added advantage, should you need it during certain stages of the job application process (say it comes down to you and another candidate). Obtaining such letters speak to your job history and the fact that you have plenty of positive references shows you’re a great candidate for any job.

9. Ensure You Have Your Reference’s Correct & Complete Information

Your list of job references should be listed out and given to your employer on a separate sheet of paper. The details you should include for each job reference to provide to potential employers should include:
• Reference’s Full Name
• Current Job Title
• Company Name
• Business Address
• Contact Information (Daytime Telephone Number; E-mail; Cell Phone Number, etc.)
• The reference’s relationship to you/ How you know this reference

10. Make Sure Your Reference Knows What They May Be Asked

While you don’t necessarily need to coach your reference, you want to ensure they are prepared for the typical questions job references are asked. Also, make sure they are able to provide concrete examples to back up their answers, just as one would within a job interview. Employers typically ask similar questions of job references, such as:
• How do you know this job candidate?
• How long have you known this job candidate?
• What’s this candidate’s attitude toward work like?
• How would you rate this candidate's communications abilities?
• How well does the candidate work under pressure?
• How well does the candidate take constructive criticism?
• How would you rate this candidate's skills in XYZ?
• Does this candidate interact with co-workers well?
• Do you consider this candidate to be a team player?
• Can you describe the candidate's leadership and/or management skills?
• What do you feel are this candidate’s key strengths?
• What do you feel are this candidate’s key weaknesses?
• How would you rate this candidate in terms of honesty and integrity?
• How open is he or she to new ideas and procedures?
• Given the role this candidate is applying for, in your opinion, is this candidate a good match?
• If you were hiring for a similar position, would you hire this candidate?
• Do you have any additional information or comments that might help us make a better decision?

11. Make Sure You Know What Your References Will Say

If you’re concerned a reference may not say great things about you, you probably shouldn’t use them as a references. If, however, your options are limited and you’re in a bind, you do have an option to find out what they will say about you by hiring a job reference verification service. For a fee, the company will contact your reference as a potential employer and report to you on what your reference said. While this isn’t the best option, it is one helpful way to find out before referencing them for a job, just in case, so you don’t get negatively referenced for the position in which you’re seeking.

12. Always Thank Your References

Since they agreed to help you with your job search, make sure to thank your references – regardless of if you obtained the job. Some companies won’t contact any of your references and some may only contact a select number. That’s irrelevant to you, however. All of your references kindly agreed to help with your job search and should be thanked, regardless of whether they were utilized or not, or if your job search was successful. A simple thank you note is common courtesy and it maintains your relationship, should you need further references in the future.

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