Tips for Preparing your Job References

The resume and cover letter are important aspects to any job application. However, the list of references is sometimes overlooked, but a very impactful piece to an application.

There’s more to references than putting down contacts of people who have worked with you in the past. Here are tips to help you prepare contacts for impactful references.

Types of references to choose

References should endorse your skills and work ethic. If you have the option, always choose professional contacts rather than personal ones. It’s best to include at least one current or former superior, one colleague or co-worker, and one subordinate (if possible.) If you don’t have a subordinate, pick a personal reference. Personal references should NOT include family or friends because they are considered biased. Personal references should include people you volunteered with, former professors, or leaders from groups you’re a part of.

When you choose references, also consider the job you’re applying for. Just like you would tailor resumes and cover letters to different positions, you should also tailor your references. Think about the skills or experience that the job description requires and pick contacts that would endorse you for those specific skills and traits.

Time frame for reference selection

Because hiring managers will likely contact your references for details about your job performance, a good time frame for selecting references is choosing individuals whom you worked with in the last 5 – 7 years. Anyone more than that might have a hard time recalling specifics about your work ethic or performance.

Ask your references

It’s important that you ask your contacts if you can use them as a reference. However, don’t ask them over email. Take the time to call them. Or, even better, take them out to lunch or coffee. This is a more personal way to ask someone to do you this favor.

When you ask, you should tell your references two things: where you are using them as a reference and details about the job position. That way, they don’t get caught off guard. You should also send them your resume, so it refreshes their memory. Another important thing to do when you ask someone to be your reference: make sure you have their up-to-date contact information. It looks bad on you if you provide a hiring manager with incorrect contact information.

If you know a hiring manager is about to call one of your references, call them to let them know. Many people screen their phone calls and won’t answer if they don’t know the phone number.

It’s important for them to be honest!

Don’t encourage your references to promote you and say only good things about you. Think about it: if your references overstate your job performance, you might end up getting the job that you’re not qualified for and are more likely to fail. Not to mention, if the reference explains that you are perfect in all areas, this will lead the hiring manager to doubt their honesty and hurt your candidacy for the position. The whole reason that potential employers check your references is to ensure that you are the right choice and that job is right for you.

Ask for a letter of reference from each reference

Throughout your career, you should always ask for a letter of recommendation from every person you use as a reference. Have them include their name, title, and contact information within the letter, so a hiring manager doesn’t assume that you wrote the letter for yourself.

Building a stock of recommendation letters can help you in the long run. This also allows you to attach a reference letter along with your application, especially if you feel you lack experience.

Thank your references!

Your references are doing you a favor and you should always thank the people who agree to be your reference, even if you don’t end up getting the job. Some companies might not even contact your references, but regardless, you should write a simple thank you note to maintain that professional relationship. Be sure to also keep them informed as to whether or not you get the job.

Don’t put your references on your resume.

Your resume should be clutter-free and have enough white space to lead the hiring manager to the most important information when they review it.

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