GAIL JOHNSON – When you’re starting a job search, you know to have your resume ready and to brush up on your interview skills. But don’t overlook the importance of solid references. When employers narrow the field to a few potential candidates, the reference check could be the deciding factor.
And while assembling a reference list that will work in your favour is one thing, savvy strategies and proper etiquette can go a long way to helping you land that dream job.
Pick people who can discuss your abilities that relate to the position—and then some
“The ideal person should be someone who knows you and your work at your current or most recent employer,” says Sheryl Boswell, director of marketing at Monster Canada. “This person should also be able to speak to your work ethic, contributions, and the successes you’ve made in your professional role.”
Work around potential trouble spots
Let’s say you and your manager don’t exactly see eye to eye. There are alternatives.
“If you feel uncomfortable asking your previous boss to be a reference, you can use a coworker at the same level as you or within the same department,” Boswell says. “As long as you’ve worked with them, it’s okay to use a colleague.
“In terms of a personal reference, you can use a mentor who knows you in a different way than your colleagues, such as a professor, coach, or other leader in your community who knows how you interact within a team and in environments outside of an office,” she says.
Get a reference’s permission first
Before you put someone’s name down, be sure to check in with them first to make sure it’s alright and to ensure they’re prepared. There’s nothing worse than getting a call from a hiring manager and being put on the spot, expected to answer questions about someone’s work ethic and style without any advance notice.
“It’s important to ask for permission so that your reference can be prepared to speak about your skills in a positive way to a potential employer,” Boswell says. “Without permission, the person could be caught off guard, confused, or unwilling to speak about you. You want to set your reference up for success as much as yourself.”
Give your references all the information they need
Career coach Alan Kearns, founder of CareerJoy, suggests giving references a description of the position you’ve applied for, as well as the hiring employer’s particular concerns.
“Talk to your reference about what they’re looking for—if the previous hires left too early and they’re afraid of you not staying there long, the reference could talk about how you’re very loyal by nature,” Kearns says. “They can address any fears around fit. If they have nothing to frame it, it’s hard to address [a hiring company’s] needs and wants.”
Keep your references in the loop
Typically, references are contacted in the later stages of an interview process. “If you are nearing a point at which your references will be contacted, it doesn’t hurt to notify them that a call may be coming their way,” Boswell says. “It can also be helpful to share the job posting or other information about the position with your references so they can speak to your qualifying skills.”
Build solid references into your LinkedIn profile
“LinkedIn is a powerful tool,” Kearns says. “If you have references set up there already, it can be really helpful and you may not need to bother anyone [with every job search]. Ask for a permanent reference on your LinkedIn profile not just for this opportunity but for opportunities in general, including opportunities you didn’t even know existed.”