Think of a job reference as a praise singer and an advocate.
A single job reference could be the difference between whether you get that plum job or not.
“References are as important as any part of the hiring process,” John Malloy, president of the Santee office of Sanford Rose, a recruitment firm based in Charleston, S.C., tells eFinancialCareers. “Hand out references only if you know exactly what the reference is going to say.”
Bottom line: choose your references strategically.
Here are a few suggestions for selecting references.
“If you are actively engaged in a job search, you should have your references identified,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of Northeastern University's MBA Career Center. “Identify people you have worked for who can attest to your work. Prepare a list of references with name, title, company, telephone and e-mail contact information. If the person now is at a company other than where you worked together, add a note clarifying the connection. Be sure to verify all contact information in advance to ensure that it is correct before you share it. If you have your general list prepared in advance, it is easy to adapt it to the specific position when needed.”
Choose Appropriate References
Understand the difference between a professional reference and a buddy.
“It’s critical to have former bosses as part of the references,” Malloy says. “Pure character references are fine for people coming out of school. The lack of a former boss on a reference list sends red flags all over the place.”
Choose References Strategically – and Manage Them
“From a career development standpoint, knowing who’s going to be your reference is very important,” says Malloy. “The development of those references is important for your career. Peers are important. Typically, a reference list will include two or three former bosses and two or three peers. Peers need to be prepared, and you can typically prepare them a whole lot better. They should be contacted every time you anticipate references being checked. Management of those references from job to job is really important by the candidate – keeping them informed of what you’re doing and how you’re doing in your career.”
He adds that in some instances, he encourages job seekers to have someone call a reference if they are uncertain of what the reference will say.
Prep Your References
It’s important to brief your references, give them background about the employer, the job and talking points that sell you as the best person for the job.
“Pretty much right away, I’d give you a call and tell you the company, the position and the most critical piece, why they like me,” Dave Denaro, vice president and Boston site lead of Keystone Associates, an outplacement and career transition firm, tells eFinancialCareers. “I’d refresh the reference’s memory as to the kind of work we did together. Why they like me is a very important part of the prep. It makes for a very good reference.”
Keep in Touch
Finally, there’s this important networking tip from Denaro.
“Keep in touch with your old bosses,” he says. “We talk about networking a lot. When you have bosses you worked well with, keep them as part of an ongoing network just in case you need a reference.”