How to Select Good References

November 14th, 2011

Many job candidates are so busy polishing their resume, creating the perfect cover letter, applying for jobs, researching companies, and preparing for interviews that they fail to put much thought into choosing their references. While selecting good references may seem like icing on the cake, choosing and using the wrong one can mean a job that was essentially “in the bag”, surprisingly fell out of reach.

1. Think strategically before choosing. Choose references that will be your strongest advocate, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a former boss. Sometimes colleagues in other departments may be the better choice.

2. Choose references from various areas. Your goal should be three to five references, but don’t choose references from only your former employer. While two or three references from former employers who can speak highly of your work ethic and accomplishments are advised, add an education (i.e. professor) and character reference who can speak about your educational background and personal attributes. Former coaches, business acquaintances, and customers are also fine choices. Avoid listing family members; although we’re sure they would say nice things about you.

3. Skip the letter of recommendation. Most hiring managers don’t put as much weight on those “to whom it may concern” letters of recommendations. In the communication age that we’re in, most would rather speak with your reference directly.

4. Ask before listing. You must get permission before listing anyone as a reference. While most people will be flattered to be asked, you need to be sure.

5. Keep your references updated. Your references should have a current copy of your resume, and be knowledgeable about your accomplishments and key skills. Inform your references of the types of jobs you are pursuing, and specific positions if possible.

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