Getting the Best From Your References

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Not all parts of the hiring process are under your control.  For all the information we’ve given you about selling yourself through a resume, application, and interview, it can become moot if your references don’t support your sale.  Poor word of mouth can sink a piece of merchandise and it can sink your opportunity for a job.

While what the individual says about you is not in your control, there are several parts of the process that is.  Let’s focus on what you can control –

  • There are three primary types of references: personal, work and educational.
    • Personal References are your best friends and the people that will say the nicest things about you. You can use a personal reference, but don’t use more than one.
    • Work References are people that have worked with you. Remember that old supervisors may be bound by workplace law or company policy to give limited information in a reference.  A good work reference can be someone who worked on the same level as you and can attest to what it is like to work directly with you.
    • Educational References can be teachers, group leaders or school advisors. If you’re too far removed from school, another form of educational reference can come in the form of a mentor: someone that can identify the ways in which you’ve developed with training/instruction.
  • Don’t use family members.
  • Always notify the people you plan on listing on a reference sheet. This gives them a chance to back out gracefully, rather than awkwardly giving a half-endorsement when an employer calls.
  • Be strategic about who you list. List people that will give you an enthusiastic reference that will help you get the job.  If you have experience in the industry, list coworkers who worked with you in the same line of work.
  • Do not list references on your resume, use a separate sheet of paper. You should duplicate the heading on both pages though.  Also don’t write “References available upon request” on a resume, if they want references they’re going to ask and don’t require permission.
  • List their names, contact information, and what your relationship is with them (friend, co-worker, former supervisor, etc.) Be consistent with your formatting of the reference sheet, everyone should have the same information listed under their name.
  • Remember to thank your references after the hiring process is completed, whether they spoke to the employer or not.
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