by Jeffrey Gu
These days, when you apply for a job or submit your resume for a position, employers often ask for references. Many times, you will see an employer make the following request: “To be considered for this position, please fill out an online profile and attach the following documents: cover letter, resume and list of three references.” So, why do employers ask for references? Hiring managers ask for references because a supervisor’s or a manager’s information or opinions about you help the company make a decision about your candidacy. Although some employers may not examine your references thoroughly, many employers will attempt to contact at least one or two of the references you’ve provided them to learn about you and your past experiences. The potential employer will be making a big investment in hiring you, so it is important to the company that you are who you say you are. What, then, makes for a good reference?
A good reference is someone who wants to see you succeed in your professional career. This person understands your personal goals as well your career and professional goals and truly believes in you and your abilities. He or she is excited to assist you in any way to achieve your goals.
Most often, companies are looking for professional references, or people you have worked for or with, to comment on your skills while working with them. These people can be past managers, colleagues, or supervisors, but you must choose carefully. Sometimes, employers will want different categories of references, including educational or personal references. The former includes professors or mentors, while the latter includes friends or spiritual mentors who can speak to your character. College students and recent graduates can have references from internships or volunteer work. One thing, however, is key: Avoid family members!
Next, this person should be in a good position to provide a recommendation for you. The individuals you choose to be your references should have directly worked with you to some capacity to be able to speak to your work and your experience. This person should be able to clearly articulate your strengths, your areas of expertise, and your personal and professional developments.
The individuals you choose to be your references should also be articulate, prepared, and enthusiastic. This person needs to be able to think quickly on his or her feet and answer potentially tough or surprising questions about you and your abilities.
You are looking for enthusiastic individuals who will best convince others of your abilities, someone personable who can provide concrete examples of your achievements rather than single-word, unimpressed replies to the potential employer. This person is someone with whom you had a great relationship, and someone who is up-to-date with your current career endeavors. However, you must be careful, too, in selecting someone at your current workplace: try to keep your job search confidential, so choose someone you can trust.
Now that you have a few individuals in your mind, how exactly do you approach these people to ask them to serve as a reference for you? You should contact the people you’d like to use as references for several reasons. First, letting a person know you have chosen him or her to serve as your references is common courtesy and professional business etiquette. Second, contacting the people you would like to serve as your references allows you to gauge whether they would make for a good reference. Willingness in his or her voice means they are ready to recommend you, while hesitancy signifies that this person is not comfortable with serving as your reference. Before you share the names, it is important to speak with these individuals and ask them what they plan to share about you, in case the potential reference plans to share something negative about his or her experiences with you. Accordingly, if the person would share negative information, you should not use them as a reference. Instead, you should have at least three or four professional references to use.
Help organize your references’ thoughts by providing supporting documents, including your resume and the type of jobs you are applying to. Provide them with a current resume and access to your LinkedIn profile, and be sure to brief them on your background. This way, your references are able to speak more knowledgeably about you and provide proof for the potential employer that your resume is accurate. Point out key parts of your experience and skills, your personality, or anything else to your references so that they know to emphasize these skills with their informative answers.
Lastly, provide your potential employer with a one-page list of all of your references, including their name, job title, relationship to you, business name and address, and contact information (email address and phone number). This page of references should be separate from your resume and should be titled “References” or “Reference List.”
As always, be sure to thank your references for their help. These individuals were willing to help you, and to thank them for their willingness and their support is a common courtesy.