You put a lot of thought into every detail when you’re applying for a job: perfecting your resume, writing your cover letter, polishing your social media accounts, and brushing up on your interview skills. Another thing you should put a lot of thought into? Whom to use for your references on your job application.
Your reference choices might seem obvious to you at first thought, and it’s true that your gut instinct is a good place to start. Often, the people that come to mind first are, in fact, good options. But with your new job on the line, it’s well worth it to take a little time to make sure that your choices are the right ones, and that you aren’t overlooking any better options.
Choose Someone Who is Willing and Available
You should always ask for permission before listing someone as a reference. Not only is this common courtesy, but it will also prepare your reference so they aren’t blindsided by the phone call (which, let’s face it, would be bad for both of you). Your reference should also understand that they will need to be available for a conversation with your potential employer at some point in the near future. Additionally, you want to choose someone whose contact information you have, or can easily find. In other words, don’t give your potential employer your reference’s name and the company they work for, and expect them to hunt the reference down for you.
Choose Someone Who Can Report on Your Job Performance
As tempting as it is to list family members and close friends as your references, this is almost always unacceptable (the exception being if you also have a professional relationship with them). Likewise, while it may be a good idea to include peers or colleagues as references, it is also a good idea to include a reference who has, in some way, been your “superior” at work, like a manager or a supervisor. Their ability to comment on your skill set and performance will provide valuable information to your new workplace. If appropriate, you may want to ask a current or former client to act as a reference for you. This would work especially well if you are trying to get hired for a client-facing position.
Choose Someone Who Knows You Well
Your potential employer wants to know what your skills and abilities are, of course, but they also want to know who you are. What are your work habits like? How do you interact with others? Under what circumstances do you struggle? Getting a clear picture of you, as a person and as an employee, will help them be more comfortable making a hiring decision about you. Before you list a reference for a particular position, talk to that person about what they have noticed about you in the workspace. Discuss stories that might highlight your strengths. Anecdotes can be very effective in communicating your character, so choose someone that has good stories to tell.
Choose Someone Who is Unbiased About Your Work Situation and Employment
Depending on the circumstances of your imminent departure from your current job, you might have to be careful about using people in your current workplace as references. Do they already know you are considering leaving? If not, would it change the dynamic at work if they did? If it is very important to your potential employer to hear from your current employer, do your best to communicate the situation to them. You might say, for example, that that is a reference you are only comfortable providing once you’re further along in the hiring process. However you decide to tread these waters, tread carefully. You certainly don’t want to burn any bridges, whether they’re in front of or behind you!
A good reference can help make landing your new job even easier, so make sure you take this task seriously as part of the application and hiring process. With any luck, your references will help you get a job that will advance your career and help you grow personally and professionally.
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