Get Your Job References Under Control

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Getting Job References in a RowIt’s amazing how much bad career advice you hear in relation to job references. Job seekers don’t know when to include them, where to put them, and who should be included in the list.

This article aims to clear up a few of the more common misconceptions about your professional contact and reference list.

  1. How to choose your references: Ideally you want to choose references that know and respect you and that are familiar with your prior achievements. Former managers and employers that will speak highly on your behalf are the most valuable options. Remember to personally contact all your references beforehand by phone or email to make sure you have permission to use their name and contact info. This will also alert them that they should be expecting a call from a hiring manager and they will have more time to reflect back and prepare a number of positive statements about you. Don’t assume that people will be positive or should provide the job reference for you; instead ask politely if they would be willing to speak to your job performance.
  2. References do not belong on your resume: Your references are not part of your resume and cover letter combo. Your resume is long enough without a list of contacts cluttering up the mix. References on a resume are visually jarring and a waste of space – overshadowing your work history and accomplishments. Additionally, including references on every cover letter might be too much for the people who volunteer to do them for you. You might consider only including those that have some very specific relationship to the company or job function and then using great job recommendations to seal the final stages of job application.
  3. Get rid of the cliche: The phrasing “references available upon request,” should be removed from your resume. Commonly used as a footnote on th last page of your resume, the expression is largely pointless, as your interviewer expects you to hand over your professional contacts when asked. If you refuse to give any references (when asked), you can probably kiss your job opportunity goodbye. What you might consider instead is to be highly specific and targeted. Introduce the reference through a short paragraph or embedded into your resume. For example: “During this project, I developed a CPC marketing strategy that drove $5M in new sales. Frank X, the current sales manager, can speak to how my campaign built a solid new sales channel.”
  4. References should stand on their own: References should also be presented to your interviewer as a separate document. The font and format should be similar to your cover letter and resume. Bring it to your interview in a high quality folder or briefcase, present them if specifically asked or when you feel that you need supporting proof of your accomplishments. The time and place for references is different for every job and interview: try to gauge the success of the interview. References are a great way to push the interview process into the next “stage.”
  5. References should be specific: A lot of reference calls start like this: “What can you tell us about Joe” and “Would you hire Joe yourself if you had the chance?” You can see that these are general questions that speak to the overall impression that they have of you. However, they don’t really do much to distinguish you as an applicant for a particular position. Talk to the people who will be providing your reference and make sure they understand details about the specific job you are applying for. For example, they could be prepared to speak to your strength in implementing SAP financial modules (for example, if that’s the main requirement of the job you are applying for.) Have them understand how your past experience relates specifically to the primary job skills required for the new position.

Usually, job references don’t make or break anyone’s chances for getting a job. This is because the recommendations are usually generally positive, ordinary, bland, and indistinct. However, with a little bit of planning and attention, they can instead become a key point of differentiation and a powerful interview tool. If you focus on a creating a highly specific, individualized, and orderly approach to reference presentation, they can make a big difference in how you are perceived as a candidate.

Read more in Resume References

Marie is a writer for covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.