The moment a hiring manager asks for references is a milestone. It is often a sign that your application is moving to the shortlisted stack, and you may be seeing the finish line in sight. That is why it is important to make sure your references won’t be a setback at this stage.
There are many points to consider when you’re selecting your references, but generally speaking you must make sure that your selected past employers or supervisors will rave about your skills, reliability and potential. This mostly goes back to picking people who are most familiar with your work and with whom you had positive work experiences.
Here are some criteria that your references should meet:
Employers typically ask for three references. Make sure that you include at least one reference from your current or most recent job. This reference should be able to provide your future employer with a realistic updated picture of your skills and capabilities. Remember while you may have developed professionally, your contacts from five years or 10 years ago may not be fully aware of what you can and can’t do now. Having recent references that can detail and vouch for your current abilities is a must.
Include references that can speak of the specific skills necessary to the job you’re applying for. You may note on your references list your connection with each reference and explain briefly why you’re including the person. This will help the hiring manager tailor questions that are relevant to your joint work experience. In addition, make sure that your references can’t be confused to be your best friends. While many work relations develop into friendships, if you’re in a small professional circle, avoid listing references with whom you’re often seen in social situations as your work references. The bottom line: Include only supervisors or coworkers who are credible and fully familiar with your skills and experience.
Just as you’d like to maintain a positive attitude throughout the interviewing and selection process, you need to have positive references. Select people who are generally upbeat and able to see the glass half full, despite work difficulties or personal issues. In addition, make sure that you don’t select someone with whom you’ve had unsettled grudges. Relying on that person’s decency in giving you a positive, unbiased recommendation is a risk that you shouldn’t take. In fact, you should avoid any persons that you’re not sure of how they feel – or felt – about your performance. For example, if you’re confident that your immediate supervisor was happy with your work, list this person as a reference instead of trying to go for the supervisor’s boss who may not have had the same impression or simply unfamiliar with your job.
Your references reflect on you not only by their answers to questions about your skills, but in how they handle themselves. If you’ve lost contact with a person you worked with years ago and you’re not sure of what this person has been doing, call first. Make sure that the person is in a good position – personally and professionally – to present and represent you. In addition, make sure that the person is aware of the type of job you’re applying for as well as the particular scope of experience that job requires. Many times, a reference could cost an applicant the job by focusing on the wrong skills and playing down skills that are essential to the position. Having a chat with each of your references ahead of passing on their contact information can refresh their memory of your work and get them ready to handle the phone call with the right focus on relevant skills. It is also a way to make sure that you’re passing on valid phone numbers and e-mails.
Including references that are generally inaccessible or unapproachable either for their busy schedules or work nature isn’t smart. If you must include someone that can be easily reached, confirm with the person that he or she is willing to help you out with this recommendation and get the best contact information for this purpose. Many organizations insist on reaching out to a certain number of references before making a decision, and if your references aren’t accessible your application may be pushed aside or delayed – something that you want to do your best to avoid.
Rania Oteify, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is currently an editor based in Seattle.