Let’s say you find that perfect job opening. The job duties, hours, and requirements fit your career goals perfectly. Your heart starts to skip a beat as you think about the new opportunity you’ve discovered. You read through the list of requirements while your mind goes through a checklist of updates for your resume and cover letter. Suddenly, you get to the last sentence, “Please attach references with resume and cover letter…” Your excitement fades to panic as you wonder who you would ask and if they would let you list them as a reference.
How many should I list? Who should be included? How well do I know these people I want to by my reference? These are all questions that one usually asks at this point in the job search. Gathering a list of references can be a struggling point for many job seekers who are just starting out and haven’t built a strong network to pull from yet. It can be difficult, but here are some guidelines to help you pick and grow the best references that will help you get a job.
Variety is a great way to strengthen your list of references. When you have variety in your list, you can have contacts who know you from different perspectives and can make a positive statement about your skills, work habits, and other qualifications. This can make you look like a well-rounded candidate to employers. When submitting references, consider references from three aspects of your life: professional, academic, and personal.
Professional references can highlight your specific skills and abilities that apply to the open job. While you should look for the most senior-level co-workers or leaders, you don’t have to list strictly supervisors or managers. Find a co-worker or manager who knows your work ethics and will give you praise. Professional references can also include vendors who you have worked with closely with in a position.
Academic references are great if you have just graduated from college or technical school. Not only can they help you find a job in your industry, they also can attest to your knowledge base and study habits. If you’ve been out of school for more than four years, and employed, focus on professional references a little more.
Personal references are considered weaker than others, but they can be used to your advantage. They don’t have to be just friends or family. If you volunteer or participate in community events, consider listing leaders who can vouch for your commitment and the soft skills you demonstrate outside of work.
Check out our list of good references to help you get an idea of who you can include in your list.
Once you’ve asked the reference to be listed, and they agree, that shouldn’t be the last time to talk to your reference. It’s important to keep in touch with your references to update them on your accomplishments and what you’ve done during your job search. You want to be fresh on their mind and current so they can provide that information to potential employers. Let them know when you’ve applied and interviewd for positions so they can expect a call.
Get your references involved in your job campaign. Let them know what you are looking for, update them on any progress you have made, and inform them of what jobs you’re seeking and what specific qualities your would-be employers want. Maintaining contact with your connections will help strengthen your list and give you more options to choose the right references for your job search.
While your references know of your skills and accomplishments, they might not know how to say it and what to expect. Some of your personal references might not have had much experience answering the questions in a manner that can make you desirable. Research some of the common questions employers ask references and send it to your references along with a copy of your resume to help them be prepared.
If you want to go a more drastic route, there are job reference companies that contact each of your references and report back to you what they said about you. These shouldn’t be necessary since you should have a trusting, working relationship with those on your reference list. But, the option is there if you genuinely feel like you need them. Overall, use your best judgment when coaching your references.
Getting a job can be much easier when you have references who can vouch for your hard work, dedication, and accomplishments. Once you are offered a job, don’t forget about your contacts and make sure to show your appreciation. Tell us about your favorite references. What made them unique or helpful? Why did you want them to be a reference and how did you meet them? Sound off in the comments below.