When you are interviewing for a job, potential employers will almost always ask for references. Checking references is usually one of the last steps of the hiring process so it means that there is a high likelihood that you will get the job – don’t let poor or lackluster references keep you from your dream job!
Here are a few things I’ve learned about asking for references:
1. The only thing worse than a bad reference is a lackluster one. If you don’t think that someone will have something positive to say about you, don’t ask them to be a reference. Your reference will be asked a lot of questions about you, such as what your weak points are, if there are any red flags about working with you, how you work with others, and where you can improve. You aren’t perfect. There will be areas where you could improve, but trust your gut. There is a difference between someone providing areas where you can grow and someone not liking working with you. Be honest with yourself and take some time to think critically about your interactions with the person and what they might say.
2. Choose someone who you worked closely with. It would be best to choose a direct supervisor or manager because they have worked the closest with you. Don’t list your best friend, mom, dad, boyfriend or girlfriend, neighbor etc. unless the company asks for character references (which probably will not be the case unless you are being vetted for security clearance). If you have had a few jobs and internships, choose people that are in the same industry as the company you are applying to. If you are still in school and haven’t held a job or internship you can list professors you worked closely with. In general, it is best to choose people that you have worked with recently because they will remember the most and be able to provide more specific details.
3. Always ask for permission before you list someone as a reference. There are a few reasons why this is an important step. One reason is that it gives the person an out. If the person doesn’t think that they worked closely enough with you or didn’t have a positive working relationship with you they can say that it would be better for you to choose someone else. Another reason to ask permission is because it is the polite thing to do. Asking permission also gives you the opportunity to explain the company, the position, and any information that might be pertinent to helping them provide a stellar reference for you.
4. Provide the reference with background information on the company and position and send them an updated copy of your resume. This will help them understand the skills and values to highlight as well as your career progression if you haven’t worked with them recently. Mention any skills that you think the employer is looking for and remind the reference of some of your biggest accomplishments when you worked for him or her. Some people say that you should call the reference, but I think that you can call or email them. If you choose to email you can indicate that you would be happy to provide more information over the phone if they would like to set up a short call.
5. Say thank you. Write your reference a handwritten thank you note thanking them for their support during your application process.
6. Follow up. I love hearing that someone I provided a reference for got the job. Follow up and let them know your good news!
7. If you are applying for a job and are currently employed you do not need to list references from your current company (in fact, I’d strongly urge you not to list them). Don’t worry. The recruiters will understand and will ask if they can contact your current employer – just say no.
I hope that these tips help you!
P.S. This post shows why it is important to stay in contact with people that you’ve worked with. You don’t have to text, snapchat, call, and email daily but it is helpful to have had some communication with them so that it doesn’t seem out of the blue when you suddenly ask to list them as a reference. I’ll be posting again soon with a few tips that have helped me stay in touch.