Are You Choosing the Right References?
Q. What do I need to know about choosing professional references?
A. It’s not an uncommon situation: Your skills, work experience, and personality seem to be a perfect fit for a prospective employer. The only thing standing between you and your ideal job are your professional references. Whom do you ask to put in a good word for you — and can you be sure that what your reference says will help and not hinder your employment prospects?
References are still an important part of the hiring process. According to Forbes, a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey notes that approximately 80% of HR executives consistently contact references for technical positions. So before you start applying for jobs, you should gather your references — former supervisors and peers who are willing to speak candidly (not to mention positively) with an employer on your behalf.
The best way to keep track of such people is to compile a list throughout your career. Check in regularly with those who have agreed to serve as references, so that you can update contact information, maintain a relationship, and offer reciprocal recommendations if asked. When selecting references, choose colleagues who
- can accurately assess your abilities and job performance;
- have worked with you recently;
- can speak to your qualifications, personality, and experience; and
- include a mix of managers or supervisors, coworkers, and direct reports.
Don’t automatically provide your reference list to employers; provide references only when requested. If and when the time comes to provide references for a specific job, choose from your list those references who sync up with the skills you are marketing to that potential employer or who have a strong connection with the hiring manager or someone on your prospective team.
Your reference list should include three to five references on a separate page. For each reference, include the person’s name, company, title, contact info, and professional relationship to you.
Be sure to let the selected references know that you’re presenting them to the potential employer. Explain a little bit about the position you’re applying to and why you’re interested in it, and remind them of your notable accomplishments. Don’t forget to keep them updated with your application status, and to thank them for providing recommendations!
More than just references
Also consider assembling a testimonials file — which, like your references list, should be updated on an ongoing basis. Each time you receive praise from clients or coworkers, store it in the file. And you needn’t restrict yourself to those pertaining to your paying job. Kudos from professors, volunteer organizations, and others you’ve worked with also help to show your expertise and work ethic.
You can also maintain a document in which you record the way you managed on-the-job problems. Many hiring managers want examples of this type of skill, and keeping an updated record to reference from later is easier than trying to recall how you dealt with something that happened several years earlier.
Carefully selected references in addition to testimonials and other relevant documentation can give a prospective employer a fuller picture of you. Accurate, detailed information that shows what you’d be like as an employee will help you and the employer to determine whether you’re the best match for the job.