What you should know about job references

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One of the most critical aspects of your job search will be getting good references. People who can speak highly of your skills and acknowledge your contributions will be a significant factor in supporting your career.

Keep in mind that not everyone whom you have worked with will serve as a useful reference. On the contrary, having a hesitant reference can often be worse than having no reference at all.

It is a mistake to minimize the influence references can have on your job candidacy. When you assume what a previous boss or colleague might say, you often get placed in an awkward situation. For example, a job candidate gave the name of a prior supervisor who gave silence to the questions asked rather than helpful information. Their silence, combined with an absence of data, left the interested employer to fill in the blanks with their guesswork, far from the ideal situation.

You could be surprised to learn what some professionals said when asked what they would do if a friend asked for a reference. Some described their friends as outstanding yet did not feel comfortable talking about their work abilities while others were at odds of what to say because they weren’t current on their friend’s skill sets.

When developing a reference list, keep in mind that some will agree to be a reference when they are deciding out of politeness rather than sending discouragement with your job search. So how do you know what your contacts will say?

One of the most telling questions you can ask a reference is, “What would you say about my skills if a potential employer contacted you”? Their answers will give you a good idea of how comfortable and confident they are in recommending you.

Good references are people you have worked with in previous jobs. Narrow down your contacts by those who liked your work the best and what you did that impressed them. Your peers are not the strongest references; instead, search for bosses or senior management who can talk about your quality of work.

The seniority of your references will bring more credibility to you. You want to select contacts that can comment on the value of your work and key skills. A strong reference can help influence a decision, especially if you compete for a job.

A good strategy for previous bosses or management who are willing to serve as a reference is to create an updated skills sheet that gives them a current snapshot of your accomplishments and projects. Highlight your most recent key skills and areas of responsibility.

While references are helpful, you need to provide guidance and keep them in the loop with the interviewing process. Never stop building your reference relationships; send them a thank you note for their support and time. Stay in touch with them long after you have landed the job.

How have your references helped your career?   What criteria did you use in choosing your references?

Kimberly Thompson, M.Ed. is a national board-certified counselor and coach. Send questions to kim@careerrescue.com or visit her blog at https://blog.chron.com/careerrescue/.

Kim Thompson