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Requesting References

If you're interviewing for a new job, expect to have your references checked prior to obtaining a job offer. Having good references can be the clincher to getting that new job. Plan ahead and compile a list of references and some letters of recommendation now, so you're prepared when a prospective employer requests them.

Whom to Ask for References

On average, employers check 3 references for each candidate. Have at least this many to vouch for you. It's important to know your references, to select the right people, and to get their permission to use them. You need responsive people that can confirm that you worked with them, your title, your reason for leaving, and other details. It's also very important to have a good idea of what they are going to say about your background and your performance. It's perfectly acceptable to use references other than your employer. Business acquaintances, professors/academic advisors, customers, and vendors can all make good references. If you volunteer, consider using leaders or other members of the organization as personal references.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Don't ask, "Could you write a letter of reference for me?" Just about anyone can write a letter. The problem can be what they write about. Rather, ask, "Do you feel that you know my work well enough to write me a good letter of recommendation?" or, "Do you feel that you could give me a good reference?" That way, your writer has an easy way out if they are not comfortable writing a letter, and you can be assured that those who say "yes" will be enthusiastic about your performance and write a positive letter. Offer to provide an updated copy of your resume and information on your skills and experiences, so that the writer has current information to work with.
In addition to references, you may be asked for contact information concerning your supervisor. However, prospective employers should get your permission before contacting your current supervisor to avoid jeopardizing your current position.

What Goes on a Reference Page?

You need to include 3-5 business references on letterhead quality stationery that matches the rest of your application materials (cover letter and resume). Provide this list at the interview rather than attaching it to your initial application materials. You want the first shot at the employer. You don't want them to contact your references before they contact you. You need to provide their title and all contact information, including addresses and phone numbers. Most companies will call your references. It is quicker than using the mail, and they can normally obtain more information about you. Put your best reference first. Other details to include are:

  • Name
  • Company, Position
  • Address, Phone, Fax, Email
  • Preferred method and time of contact
  • How long have you known each other
  • A place for you to enter a paragraph describing your relationship in detail

References are one part of your job search, over which you have complete control. The following steps may help you develop an enthusiastic panel of supporters.

Assume your References will be Checked

It's a misconception to think that your references won't be checked. Most companies check references during the hiring process. Consider it a good sign if the prospective employer contacts your references.

Ask Permission Before Listing a Reference

Too many job seekers don't even make references aware that they are being listed. In addition to being standard courtesy, asking permission eliminates many of the problems that references cause job seekers. Your contact will usually tell you if they don't want to serve as a reference. You should also eliminate references who don't remember you.

Seeking permission is critical in today's litigious society. Many companies prohibit employees from providing any information other than job titles and dates of employment. While this may be standard company policy, it can raise a red flag with potential employers. By asking permission, you'll know which references are able and willing to vouch for you.

Make Sure Your References are Comfortable Speaking on Your Behalf

It's not just what they say, it's how they say it. If you sense a reference may be hesitant, offer a polite out. Ask if the person would rather provide a letter of reference. While you may never need or use the letter, at least you know a hesitant reference isn't on your list.

Verify Your Information

Make sure that all contact information is correct and up to date. You want to avoid turning in a long list of references and have the prospective employer come up with no information. It can be very frustrating! Always have your updated list ready to present at an interview.

Coach Your References

Spend 10-15 minutes talking to each person that you ask to serve as a reference. Discuss your job goals, outline the qualities and skills you're emphasizing in your job search, and give each a copy of your resume. Some employers may ask your reference for others to contact, so consider suggesting a mutual contact. Coach your backup references, also. Subsequent to each interview, reinitiate contact with your references to alert them that an employer may be calling. Explain to them the highlights of your interview and attempt to get agreement as to the points they will mention to the employer when they call. Refresh their memories of your qualifications and instances where you demonstrated the skills that the employer desires. References can also assist as part of your job search network. They are active in the corporate work force and can provide job leads and encouragement during your search.

Choose References Based on Job Requirements

A resume designed to promote your marketing skills isn't likely to land you a human-resources position. You'd have to write a second resume, offering a different slant on your skills and experience. The same is true for references. Someone who can vouch for your technical abilities may not be the best person to discuss your management skills.

List each potential reference, including 2 or 3 from each job you've held. Under each name, jot down job skills and work characteristics each one knows best. Next, rotate your references, choosing them based on the skills you want to spotlight for a particular position.

If you're conducting a very active job search, rotate your references as a courtesy. It will save 2 or 3 people from being contacted by every employer who checks your references.

Consider a Reference Check a Good Sign

An employer will only call references if the candidate is viable. It's often one of the last steps before a job offer is extended.

For more information, please refer to Ten Ways to Get More Out Of Your References.