|  February 19, 2013

How to choose good references

After the resume, the application, and the interviews, you’d think you’d be just about done with the process.  Good news is, you probably are.  However, there is one more critical step and that is reference checking. Most of the time you will be asked for references up front even though they won’t be called until later.  Here’s some info on how to choose good references that will help you get the job.

Good references are professional, not personal

While your uncle or best friend might have lovely things to say about you, it’s probably not a great indicator of  your job performance and therefore not what the company you’re interviewing with is looking for.  Companies use references to gain some insight into how you will perform on the job so professional ones are the only real options.

There are some cases where an employer may ask for a “character” reference and that’s one where it is okay to put down someone you’ve known for a while in a personal way.

Former bosses hold the most weight so if you do have a former boss that you think would say nice things about you, definitely list that person first.  Other people you’ve worked with in previous jobs are also a good choice.  Keep in mind that when the reference checker gets on the phone with the person you listed, they will get a sense of how closely you worked together.  Listing a work-BFF won’t help you gain too much credibility.

They don’t necessarily have to be your current employer

If you are currently working somewhere and looking for a job, your current employer probably isn’t aware of that. Recruiters realize that and don’t expect you to hand out the contact information of someone who doesn’t know you’re about to leave them.

In the case that your current employer is your only employer, you may want to leave the references section blank and then explain this to a recruiter when you meet with them.  Some applications also have a checkbox that says “do we have your permission to contact your current employer” and of course you can choose to provide the information but check “no”.

In my experience, recruiters usually give you a heads up before they call your references and this usually happens at the very end of the process when they are serious about giving you an offer.

They will be honest, but complimentary

When you choose your references, you should know that they are eventually going to get grilled to share lots of information about you – that includes the good but also the “bad”.  Everyone has their strengths and areas for development so don’t worry about that.

At the end of the day, you can’t really control what people will say and won’t say so just choose the references that you know you’ve done good work for.  Also make sure you parted on good terms when you left that role.  Any minor “areas of development” they might point to will hopefully be overshadowed by all of the good work you did and the positive impression you left.

A few other notes about providing references

  • You don’t necessarily need to list references on your resume. They can be on a separate sheet if you’d like.
  • However, it’s not necessary to provide them proactively. Companies will ask for them when they need them.
  • Let your references know to expect a call – this will help them gather their thoughts and give you a stronger reference.
  • Thank them after the fact – giving a reference is time-consuming so good to let them know you appreciated it.

Any other questions about giving references as part of the job search? Leave it in the comments and we’ll cover it in a future post!

Did you enjoy this post? Get tools, templates, and advice delivered straight to your inbox