JOB SEARCH / MAR. 28, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Looking for Work? Choose Your References Carefully

According to a new survey, “62% of employers report that when they contact a reference list on an application, the reference didn't have good things to say about a candidate.”

If you're seeking new employment, this information might come as a surprise. The job market is highly competitive nowadays; and given how it can take on average seven months to find new employment after a job loss, it's important that you choose references who will speak highly of you.

Unfortunately, having the right skills and expertise isn't always enough to snag a new opportunity. The truth is, hiring managers are bombarded with resumes and job applications; and depending on the response to a job ad, they might only select the top candidates from the initial 15 or 20 applications.

As part of the application process, many employers contact references to discuss your work ethic and character. However, some job applicants mistakenly downplay the importance of choosing good references. Instead, they focus all their attention on crafting a killer cover letter and resume. Both are also crucial to getting an interview; but if you want a job offer, you need good references.

The persons you select as references should be individuals who want you to succeed. They should also be able to answer difficult questions about you and thoroughly articulate your strengths.

Here are a couple of things to consider when selecting references for your job application.

Choose your most recent supervisors or coworkers

If an application requests three or four references, you might feel compelled to list your present boss and all prior employers. This is perfectly okay; but if it’s been years since you worked under a particular supervisor/boss, this may not be the best person to talk about your strengths and abilities — especially if you’ve grown as an employee in recent years.

For example, your time management skills might have improved over the years, or maybe you’ve become more assertive or a better team player. If a prior employer didn’t see these skills first-hand, they’re not likely to sell hiring managers on your talents.

Remember, a reference doesn't have to always be a boss or supervisor. You can also list a coworker or other colleague. Therefore, if you feel that a past supervisor may not provide the best review of your skills, omit this person from your application and list a coworker or a team member who you’ve worked with in the recent past.

Consider your working relationship with those listed as references

You need to be confident that all persons listed as a reference will provide a good review. Prior to listing someone on your job application or resume, consider whether you had a good working relationship with this person. This individual may know your abilities and strengths. But if you had frequent disagreements with this person, or if your personalities didn't match, there's a chance that this person may speak negatively about you.

It’s only courteous to notify people that you would like to use as a reference. This way, they’re not caught off-guard when a hiring manager calls. For this matter, if you ask to use a person as a reference, and this person seems reluctant or hesitates, select another person. Good references are enthusiastic and eager to provide employers with a stellar character or professional reference.

Bottom Line

If an employer can’t decide between you and another applicant, a positive review from references may sway the decision in your favor. Therefore, only select references who have your best interest in mind, and who will convince employers that you’re the best person for the job.

Image Credit [Flickr]


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