References are valuable. They give potential employers an idea of what they’re getting into by hiring you. It gives them a glimpse into your work ethic and habits from someone who has already had first-hand experience in working with you. For that reason, it’s extremely important to choose your references carefully. When it’s time to ask for references, seek out the most successful and influential people you can.
- Choose wisely. Immediate supervisors or managers (the more recent, the better) make for the best references because they are able to evaluate your current professional performance. It does not have to be the person you got along with the best, but the person who knows your strengths and has real knowledge of how your skills and capabilities will fit the potential opportunity.
- Always ask first. Once you have identified a potential reference, give them a call, ask them out for coffee, update them on what you’re doing and let them know you’d like them to provide a reference. Manners matter. It doesn’t matter how great a reference the person can be: If a potential employer calls out of the blue and the person is not prepared the reference given might not be as comprehensive as want you hoped.
- Stay connected. No one can remember every detail of every employee they work with, but if there is a copy of your resume in front of them when they answer the phone, you can be sure that you will be given an accurate referral. Make sure your references have an updated copy of your resume. Also refresh your reference’s memory regarding the position you held while working with them.
- Provide specifics. This is especially important for higher-level applicants. Sometimes potential employers will grill your references for specific details about you. Keep in touch. After someone has agreed to serve as a reference, verify their contact information and provide your up-to-date résumé. Follow up whenever you think the person is likely to receive a call. This gives you a chance to confirm your reference’s availability and to brief them on the key requirements of the position. Ideally your contact will start thinking about specific reasons you’d be a good fit.
- Use different references for different positions. Specifically tailor your references to match the opportunity you are applying for. Certain people are going to be able to speak to certain skills. When choosing and listing references, keep this in mind. Overall, you ideally want about three to five references – people who can speak highly of your accomplishments, work ethic, skills, education and performance.