A “job reference” is the perfect eyewitness from a previous job that can explain what an amazing colleague you were to work with. So, think about this: Who is the perfect eyewitness?
- Your mom?
- Your superior?
- The receptionist in your last office?
You can rule out #1 immediately and #3 will probably say nice things about you but they never really understood what made you a great employee. Your superiors will know the most about what you are like to work with. Therefore, they are the perfect eyewitness. They are the most powerful reference.
Unlike the traditional working world of the past where a person may have only 3 to 5 jobs throughout a career, today’s workforce may have 10 to 12 jobs before they retire. Having so many jobs creates a larger demand to have powerful references. So, here are some tips on how to choose them and make it easy for others to get in touch with them.
1. Ask the Right Boss (ie: You Know What They Will Say About You)
Just because you had success at the last company does not mean the boss will have glorious things to say about you. In the past, we have heard stories from job seekers who felt like their old boss “threw them under the bus”. And they did so by saying something like the following:
“Even though **** was a great worker, very motivated, and regularly achieved goals, at times I watched **** subvert the company guidelines or was not a team player.”
Ouch! Remember it takes a bit of social awareness to understand which bosses will speak in your favor and those that will not. Sometimes, employee/boss relationships do not work out so well, even when the company benefits. And minor disagreements on the job can make you appear difficult to work with. You need to know what bosses are on your side and those that may hold hidden grudges against you. The great thing about a reference is that you can ask them whether or not they will give positive feedback, before listing them.
Note: If you have to ask or doubt someone...you have your answer.
2. Ask the Right Former Colleagues or Co-Workers From Your Team
Your powerful references can include people you worked with directly, not necessarily someone you reported to. The nice thing about these types of references is that your future employer may not be aware that both of you are friends.
We spend so much of our time working throughout our lives that many times a colleague becomes a friend. They know you best. They know what you need. And they know that you are great to work with.
Important: When you approach a colleague to ask for a reference, again, find out what they are going to say. The last thing you want is your colleague telling embarrassing “war stories” from work. Make sure they do not talk about times when you both made mistakes, got drunk after work, attended each other’s wedding, etc. Get the details on what they will say!
3. Do Not Stop at One Reference
Get multiple references, just in case. Hiring managers and online application forms will rarely ask for more than three references. Yet, having more than one will help you especially when you are going out to work in an industry or field that your reference never worked in. Get strategic references based on the different requirements for each job.
4. Make Sure the Contact Info Is Accurate and Updated
Nothing says "poor reference" like a phone number for a reference that connects you to a company switchboard in a business with 100,000 employees. Really? Do you think the hiring manager is going to track down your reference like a private detective?
When you give contact info for a reference make sure it is his or her direct line or direct email. References change jobs, too, and you have to keep up with them in order to know which one will be most powerful.
Whenever possible, it will serve you better to meet with your references in-person or on the phone. It helps keep your relationship strong and gives you an idea as to where your relationship stands. You can also talk about work-related topics and find out what the other has been up to lately.
5. Give a Powerful Reference to Get a Powerful Reference
It goes without saying, “I do for you what you will do for me.” If you are someone’s powerful reference and you had helped them get work, they will do the same for you in the future.
6. If You Can...Get an Internal Reference
Do you have connections with a company you are applying to? If you do you should definitely ask if they will speak on your behalf as a reference, especially if that person is held in high regards within the company.
References need not only come from companies you had worked with. They can also come from your network, too. But make sure this is your professional network. Unfortunately, your mom, dad, sister, brother, spouse, etc. are not the best references.
For more advice on choosing your references and how to include that information on your resume, check out How to List References on a Resume [And If You Should].