A key part of the job search and interview process is selecting professional job references. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that references are one of the top three hiring techniques used by employers.
Many employers request job references either with a job application or during the interview, so it's important to take the time to make a reference list when applying for job positions. Deciding who to include in your list and how to ask them to be a reference is an important step in getting the new job you want.
Why References are Important
In order to learn more about a prospective employee, employers use references to get an insight into a person's work habits, character, abilities and talents. References help a prospective employer know if the person they are hiring is a right fit for their company.
Deciding Who Should Be a Reference
Choose between three and five references and carefully select your references prior to the job interview. When choosing your references, keep the following in mind:
Choose the Best Reference Candidates
Better references are typically people who are:
- Highly credible
- Have positive things to say about you
- Available in the time frame you need a reference
While most references will come from past employers, such as co-workers and supervisors, it's a good idea to have one to two educational and character references as well. Those who are just entering the work field can use those worked with in past internships and volunteer opportunities. When choosing who should be a reference, remember the following:
Work Around Unhappy Past Employers
If you didn't get along well with your previous employer and don't think that you have someone there who would make a good job reference, don't list them. Instead, choose a co-worker you worked with closely at the previous job who can speak highly of your accomplishments.
Make References Unique to Each Job
Just like you should change your cover letter and resume to reflect each job you apply for, the same goes for references. If possible, tailor the references you give a prospective employer to best reflect what the employer is looking for in a new employee.
Look Beyond Employers
Personal references can give employers insight into your character, talents and abilities. Consider clergy members, close friends, vendors, customers, coaches and business acquaintances for personal references.
How to Request Someone to Be a Reference
Don't Force a Hesitant Reference
When asking people to be a reference or to write a letter of recommendation and they seem to hesitate, don't push it. Not only will it be unknown what is said or written in the letter about you, employers often follow up with references and ask questions. A hesitant reference may not be able to give the best character reference or describe your qualifications adequately.
Once you are ready to ask a reference for a recommendation, remember to be gracious. If it's been a while since you've worked with the person, remind them of who you are and where you worked together. Explain to them your current job and where you are hoping to work. Ask if they would be comfortable giving you a highly positive job reference. If they hesitate, graciously say, "Thank you anyway," and leave it at that. If they are willing to be a reference, thank them and say that you will be emailing them additional information about the job and your qualifications.
Information that Should be Given to References
When someone agrees to be a reference for you, it's important that you give
them adequate information in order for them to properly refer you for the job.
Don't let them just assume what qualifications or abilities you would like
mentioned. Information that is helpful for references may include:
- Job description, which includes necessary accomplishments and duties
- Copy of your resume
- Copy of your cover letter
- Your personal statement if the recommendation is for an application for a graduate school
- Your LinkedIn profile address, which should have professional and skilled endorsements
You have the skills, education and employment history necessary to get the job that you have always wanted. Lining up references is the next step in the job search process.