December 28, 2013

Six Ways to Maximize Your Job References

Your resume is stunning and you aced your interview.  The job offer seems like it’s a shoe-in. But wait, before plying you with a great salary and stellar benefits, a future employer has one more I to dot: Checking references.  Here are six tips to ensure that your references help you to seal the deal:

1. Make a list of all the people who know your strengths, particularly as they relate to your job search. 

If you have been working for a few years, you should have no problem coming up with employers, supervisors, coworkers and professional associates.

If you are still in college, or high school, the list may be a bit more of a stretch.

Have you worked at an on- or off-campus job? Have you volunteered? Are you active in campus activities? Are you a school leader? Your list might comprise employment or volunteer supervisors, activity advisors, college professors or even your high school guidance counselor.

Think outside the box, but remember relatives and friends generally do not make valuable references, since their opinions are considered biased by your close personal relationship.

2. Narrow the list.

Think about what each person on the list could offer a potential employer — and then think about who would make the best impression on your future boss. Settle on at least three and no more than five references.  If possible, these individuals should represent different areas of your life, or at least be able to discuss different aspects of your talents and strengths.

3. Talk to your references.

Never, never, never, NEVER give out the name and number of a reference without talking to him or her first.

Even if you think your old boss was thrilled with your performance, he might not have been. That’s why it’s essential that you talk to all potential references first, before giving out their names.

Here’s what you do: Give each person a call, let him or her know that you are applying for some new jobs. Tell them a little bit about the type of positions you are applying for — and try to gauge their level of support.

Don’t just ask, “Will you serve as a reference?” Ask them, point blank, if they can support your candidacy. Hearing no might be awkward (okay, it will be), but trust me: It’s a lot better to hear no from a potential reference than from a future employer after said references has trashed your name.

4. Take advantage of any networking opportunities that present themselves.

When you call your future references you might find yourself in the middle of a great networking opportunity. As you tell them about your employment goals, they may have questions and suggestions. Listen carefully and be sure to present yourself confidently. Your reference could end up turning into your turnkey networking connection.

5. Create a reference sheet.

Once you have settled on your list of two to four references, list each person’s name, title, company (if relevant), address, phone number and email address on a single sheet of resume paper.  Bring a copy with you to every interview and be prepared to share it with those who ask. 

6. Keep in touch.

Ask your references to contact you after an employer calls them. This is an excellent way to get feedback on the selection process, and gain some insight into any concerns an employer may have about your fitness for the position.

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