References: Your Rock or Pure Rubble?

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Anytime you begin your hunt for a new job, you make sure you get your resume updated and maybe your wardrobe, too. But all too often you may overlook one of the most important items that needs updating: your references.

Make no mistake—companies do check references, and they have gotten better and more efficient at ferreting out the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly truth.

Reference checking is not routine, nor is it overlooked. It could be the single most important element of your job search strategy. In fact, an offer letter can be revoked if a reference check is not favorable. So, let’s make sure your reference check won’t crumble under scrutiny and will serve as the cornerstone of your efforts. This handful of tips can help you build references that are rock solid.

Good References

First, choose the right people. Select for your references those who are articulate, positive and enthusiastic about your work. They are going to be selling you; they need to be able to talk about the specific qualifications you have for the job you are seeking.

Your references must be able to vouch for more than your professional abilities; they must be able to represent you as a person of good character. Consider this: if the reference this person gives is anything less than glowing, it is hurting your chances of getting the job. Think "passionate advocate.”

Second, be sure you help to prepare your references for the call. Share your updated resume. If they are references you have used previously, let them know you are in the market and tell them what kind of job you are looking for. If you want to use them for the first time, make sure you communicate with them first, not only to prepare them, but also to make sure they will eagerly endorse you. In fact, if your references are not already contacts on one of many social networking sites, asking them to join your network and requesting a reference is a good way to start.

Next, be sure you let the hiring company know what your relationship is to the reference. A long-time friend or associate is a good character reference, and an associate can vouch for you as well. But your potential employee absolutely needs to see one or two supervisors in the mix.

Bad References

Anything you omit or misrepresent will certainly be exposed by a reference (as well it should). But just as importantly, you must never ask a reference to support you in an untruth. Never fake a reference. Using wrong contact information or the cell phone of a friend is living a dangerous lie; you will be found out, so don’t bother.

Even real references that are unprepared run the strong risk of being a bad reference for you. Take time to think about who you want to include. Can this reference really support you? What if they don’t remember you? Confusion, surprise, hesitation—anything that displays less than total support for you can work against you. Even a subtle lack of enthusiasm can be dead weight to your chances. If you have any doubts, consider someone else. It does not take three strikes to knock you out of the running.

In the end, as the old saying goes, “To have a friend, be a friend.” The same goes in the search for a job. Offering yourself as a reference to someone whom you believe is a quality person and might be looking for a job is a nice gesture and could lead to reciprocation. Rock on.