Making a Career Move? Choose Your References Wisely


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Monday, September 19, 2022
Career Corner: Why Job References Matter

Making a Career Move? Choose Your References Wisely

“I’ll put in a good word for you.” Those words are music to the ears of anyone who’s about to go searching for a job. Finding people who can vouch for you and testify to your competency and talent as a worker can make all the difference. It’s why people spend so much time networking—having people in your corner who can advocate for you is important. Skills and experience can take you very far in life, but having people who believe in you and support can help take you a little bit further.

Why Are References Important?

Job references matter because they provide evidence of your abilities, achievements, and attitude. It tells prospective employers something very important that you can’t put on a resume: what it’s like to actually work with you. You could have the most impressive resume imaginable but if no one you used to work with has a good word to say about you that speaks volumes. Good job references can be deciding factors in the hiring process because they offer insight into how well you work with others.

Getting References

There are a few good rules of thumb to keep in mind when you’re trying to put together some job references to enhance your resume. The most important: always touch base with your references and get their permission before listing them as a reference. There’s some good reasons for this:

  • It lets them know to expect the call, so they won’t be caught off guard. You should also find out what their preferred method of contact is. If they prefer email communications to phone calls, specify that when you hand out their contact information.
  • It gives you an opportunity to confirm that your information about them is still accurate. It’s not a good look to use a reference if they’ve changed phone numbers or no longer work at the company/position you’ve listed them under.
  • It provides you with a bit of a “temperature check” with your reference. If they’re not enthusiastic or seem reluctant to be a reference, that’s a very important sign that you should find someone else to fill that spot. A lukewarm reference can do a lot more harm than good.
  • It also gives you a chance to tell them a bit about the position/company/field you’re applying to. Giving them this information helps let them know the kind of questions they might be subjected to as a reference.

Like all good networking, following-up is key. Always make sure to touch base with your references after you get the job, thanking them for their time. You may never know if they were contacted or not, but you should treat them as though they were. A reference is doing YOU a favor; let them know you appreciate it.

Who Makes A Good Reference

When you’re trying to decide who to use as a reference, choose people who can speak well of your personal character, accomplishments, and qualifications. Your references should be people who’ve worked with you (preferably in a supervisor capacity), who’ve seen you in the thick of things, who can attest to the value you can bring to an organization. The more recent the reference, the better; it could look strange if all your references are from jobs held years before your most current position. However, relevancy trumps all other considerations: if your most current work experience isn’t relevant or related to the job you’re applying for now, go for older references that ARE more relevant.

If you don’t want to use your recent supervisor as a reference because of interpersonal conflicts or because you don’t feel that they’d give a fair assessment of your work, it’s okay to reach out to other people in the same organization who’ve worked with you and can provide a positive view of your performance.

Who Doesn’t Make A Good Reference

A common pitfall is people often mistake personal references for job references. While your family and friends can certainly speak to your character, they may have no idea what it’s like to work with you. Avoid listing personal relationships or family members as job references. You should also refrain from listing people you’ve worked with who you rarely interacted with and have very little first-hand knowledge of what you do. Someone you went out to lunch with is not going to be a sterling work reference if they can’t provide specifics on what you did at the company. A good reference offers positive, specific, well-thought information. 

When To Get A Reference

The short answer: As soon as possible! Lock down your references as soon as you’re on the hunt. Some companies won’t ask for references until the interview; others may expect you to have personal & work references included in your resume/cover letter when you first apply. If you’re still working at your current job, securing references can be tricky if you’re trying to be discreet with your job search. Considering how long job searches and hiring processes can take, it may be a while before you find yourself at another company so it’s prudent to tread carefully here.

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