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How Should You Choose Your Job References?


Most employers will ask for references, in order to establish that you’re as good as you say you are, and to get a better idea of what you’re like to work with. Here’s how to choose references that put you in the best light and get you hired.


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  1. Unless explicitly requested, keep it professional: Your references should be people you’ve had a working relationship with – your manager, colleagues, director, clients, etc. – essentially, people who can talk with considerable knowledge about your work, skills, and performance. Personal references can be asked to establish or ascertain your professional conduct and personal qualities that could impact your role. For fresh graduates or people new to the workforce, personal references are more common.
  2. Look for these qualities in your reference: When choosing a reference, make sure that it is a person you trust and believe has your best interests in mind, can communicate well, is knowledgeable about your strengths and areas of opportunity, and has examples of your work to address any tough questions that may come up during the reference check call.
  3. Contact references in advance: If you are fairly positive about the interviewing process, try and reach out to people you trust in your network, ideally three professional contacts (supervisor, colleague, direct report/client) and three personal contacts. You should ask them if they’re willing to be a reference, and let them know about the job you have applied for, and explain the skills expected of the person who gets the job, to prepare them for the kind of questions that the recruiter could ask them during the reference check. Gather the up-to-date contact details of your references, so you are ready to share their details when requested.
  4. Check what they have to say about you: If you are not sure about the kind of feedback you’ll get from any of your references, you can check with them to understand their opinion on your performance. As Angela Rose writes in HCareers, “If you are uncertain of what past employers may say about you, contact them and ask, ‘Was my job performance such that you would rehire me?’ This is a common question asked by reference checkers. If anyone answers, ‘No,’ don’t use him or her as a reference.” Alison Green writes in US News, “…if you don’t trust [your reference] to be candid with you, you can have someone else call and do a reference check on you. There are companies you can hire for that, but there’s nothing that says you can’t have a friend do it for you for free.”
  5. Keep your references updated: If your recruiter/coordinator reaches out to you for your references, reach out to those people and let them know to expect a call soon. If possible, also gather information about their availability and share that with the recruiter ahead of time. Follow up with thank-you notes and the result of your interview, even if all of your references were not contacted. It is a minimum courtesy you can show to people who were willing to help you.

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Padmaja Ganeshan Singh
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