5 References That Should Be on Your
List to Land the Job
by: Heather Huhman
When you’re applying for jobs, a common request among employers is for you to provide a list of professional references. After your interview, your references could be a key component of whether you receive a job offer from a company.
For each new job opportunity, you should make sure your list of references is the right fit. Think about your relationship with each person. How closely did you work with them? How recently did you work together? How will they explain your qualities to the hiring manager? All these details play a role in who goes on your list. You need to select people who will emphasize your strengths to potential employers.
It’s a good idea to prepare a document listing your references so you can have them ready for employers. Here are five people you can include on your list of professional references if you want to land the job:
1. Former Employer
A previous employer can provide the best insight into your work ethic. They know what your responsibilities were at your job and how you handled them.
Someone you worked alongside at a previous job, even if they weren’t your boss, can be an excellent reference. They will be able to speak about things you worked on together and what you achieved as a team. Teamwork is one of the most important soft skills an employer looks for, so having someone to vouch for your teamwork skills is vital.
A teacher or professor can provide a really strong reference, especially if they taught a course pertinent to your major. They will be able to talk about the skills you picked up during their course, as well as your personal character.
An academic advisor, depending on the amount of time you spent with them, is another great option for a reference. If your advisor is someone who got to know you really well during your college career, they can talk about how you’ve grown into the professional you are today.
Someone who supervised you, but wasn’t necessarily your boss, could be another excellent reference to include. This could be a supervisor from a volunteer project, an internship or some other extracurricular activity. Any of these people spent enough time working with you to get a sense of your character, and probably your passions. That combination makes for a great reference.
Choose at least three of these people to include on your list of professional references. Always bring a few copies of your list to interviews, in case you’re asked to provide them. Promptly let the people on your list know when a hiring manager asks for your references, so they know to expect a call or email.
Your references could make or break your chances of landing a job, so make sure you select the best people to speak on your behalf.
Avoid These 8 Fatal Mistakes with References
Your job search is like a modern marketing campaign. Since you are the product, your advertising should include: a resume, cover letter, business card and of course, online presence.
Employers will definitely take your advertising into account. But they know that this is you boasting about yourself. To balance this, they will also want to hear what other people have to say about you. That’s why your references are so crucial.
Choosing and preparing your references can be trickier than you think. It’s easy to make mistakes that could ruin your chances for the job. Avoid these eight common errors and give your marketing muscle a boost.
Mistake 1) Providing Inadequate References
Some job seekers believe they have lots of people to contact as references. That won’t matter if the references aren’t up to snuff. You’ll need people who know you from your recent job(s), and maybe a personal reference as well. The more relevant and credible the people you select as references are, and the more they know about how you work, the better.
What about references for students and grads who lack work experience? They may need to ask teachers or professors, parents, coaches or contacts from their volunteer work.
Mistake 2) Not “Googling” Your References Beforehand
At a minimum, use a search engine to quickly check each person who agrees to serve as your reference. An employer might do the same. It’s best you see ahead of time what they might find. The same goes for each reference’s social media presence. You’re responsible for the first impressions an employer will form.
Mistake 3) Giving Out Your List too Early
Keeping control of your references is important. Don’t release your reference list until you’re asked to. Submitting it too soon lets the employer pick and choose who they’ll contact. The preferred approach is for you to suggest one or two references most relevant for the job you’ve applied to. If the employer asks for more names, or makes a specific request – such as wanting to speak to your most recent boss – you can respond accordingly. Otherwise it could be that a letter of reference will suffice.
Mistake 4) Not Bothering to Prepare Your References Adequately
Imagine if an employer calls your reference and the reference has no clue why they’re being contacted. You’d end up looking pretty disorganized. Your reference would be embarrassed and maybe angry with you. Avoid this common mistake. There are several steps in preparing each reference:
Inform them in advance of the kind of job you’re currently seeking
Find out what they may say about you, and make some helpful, specific suggestions about skills, experience and personality traits you’d like highlighted
Send them a copy of your resume, the job description, or anything else they may need to talk about you confidently and accurately
Mistake 5) Making It Hard to Contact Them
Ensure that when it’s time to contact your references, you make it simple for the employer to do so. The least you should do is give an approved, current phone number and email address for each person. This may take a bit of research on your part if the reference is from years ago and no longer works at the same place. Harder still to find are those who’ve moved away. Do not leave it up to the employer to locate this information themselves. They may decide the effort’s not worth it, or that you’re either lazy or trying to hide something.
Mistake 6) Failing to Re-Alert References in a Timely Way
Possibly you’ll complete steps 4 and 5 above early in your job search campaign. If enough time passes since then, go back and update your references on your status. Are you close to being asked for your list? If so, alert the people who’ll be contacted. See if they have any additional questions or comments. They’re probably busy people so don’t take for granted they’ll remember.
Mistake 7) Overusing Your Endorsers
Reference burnout: it’s when one or more of your references has been contacted by an employer too often. It can happen when you’re going on interviews with numerous employers. The longer your job search goes, the more likely you’ll run into this problem. To prevent this you should have a couple of backup references. Consider alternating the references you use periodically. Remember too that as a reference speaks up for you more than a couple of times, they may start wondering why you haven’t found a suitable job yet.
Mistake 8) Neglecting to Properly Say Thank You
Your references are sticking their necks out for you. What they say on your behalf could win or lose you the job. So be appreciative of their efforts. Send them a note of thanks from time to time. And if you get that new job, make sure the reference(s) who made the biggest difference know it. Offer to return the favor one day. You never know when the roles will be reversed.