How to Leverage Job References to Win Offers
You are ready to start your job search equipped with a killer resume, and you have practiced and prepared well enough to nail interviews. Before you begin applying however ask yourself, “how do my references stack up?” Reference checks can make or break an employer’s decision. In fact, in my years of consulting with HR directors, recruiters and hiring managers across the globe, I have learned that they will revoke an offer if a candidate’s references fall short of their expectations. Do not underestimate the importance of having a strong list of references.
Here are 3 tips and guidelines to help you with your job references strategy:
- Choose your professional references wisely. Supervisors, and team leaders serve as strong professional references because they can speak directly to the value you offer, your professional attributes, work ethic and can share insight on your personality. If your reference list does not include management level roles, it can send a message that your departures were less than pleasant. A coworker may be suitable if they can attest to more than just your dates of employment; direct reports, or those that you mentored who can speak to your leadership skills and peers that can illustrate your interpersonal skills may also be suitable. Former clients or business acquaintances are acceptable to use as well. Avoid listing family unless you worked for them. Personal references (also known as character references) might include clergy, or volunteer leaders. College students and recent grads have a bit more flexibility to use personal references from volunteer work, coaches, instructors, and internships. Most employers expect to see at least three professional references and one to two personal references. It may be advantageous to list more in both categories in the event that they cannot reach some of your contacts.
- Contact your references before you begin your job search. Moreover, maintain contact during, as well as after you land a job.It is important that they be aware you are in the market for a new job especially if it has been a while since you have been in touch. Plus they may even send prospects your way when they learn you are looking. Confirm that you have their best phone numbers, emails and address. Chances are that you have a strong enough relationship with them that you can be confident that they will promptly respond to inquiries; politely asking them to do so cannot hurt. Provide them with your updated resume so they may become familiar with any new skills you have developed as well as recent accomplishments. Maintain contact throughout your job search informing them when you have landed interviews and for what positions. Provide job descriptions and company information and so that they can tailor their answers specific to the objectives and core values of each. After you land a job, contact your references to thank them regardless of whether they are contacted. Nurture your relationships and offer to help them when they need it.
- List your references on a separate sheet, not on your resume. This is for privacy reasons; your contacts most likely do not want their contact information touted out on job boards for everyone to see. Also, it is a standard resume “rule”; keep the content of your resume customized to each job description. On your reference list provide first and last name, title, company, phone number(s), email address and mailing address. By the way, you may also avoid stating “References Available Upon Request” on your resume.
Print out copies of your list and bring them to each interview along with copies of your resume. If the interviewer does not request your references, offer them up. This shows that you have nothing to hide, and you are confident as to how they will deliver.
You may check out a sample references list and other job-winning tips, tools and resources here.