Resume Preparation: Asking Other People for References

References: Asking other people to talk about you

It makes most of us uncomfortable when people talk about us. We don't want to care what they think, but we do. I had a friend who used to tell me: what other people think of you is none of your business. She's right. But I still care, at least when it's someone whose opinion I value.

All of this makes asking for references hard.

Here's how to handle it.

You may not need a reference

Don't put references on your resume. They don't really belong there. Your resume is about you and your experience.

If the common practice in your area is to give references, then put: References available on request.

You also may not need to give references at all. Background checks often mean calling up every former employer and asking questions. Companies like to do this because they think they will get a more complete picture of you than just talking to people you hand select. But they often just get confirmation of your employment dates and title because you're long gone or that's all the former employer gives out.

When employers do a background check on their own, you probably don't need to give them specific references.

Resume preparation: When you need a reference

You need a reference when someone specifically asks for references. When this happens, it's good to be prepared with the names of several people who you trust to say nice things about you.

You want to choose people who 1) actually know you; 2) are familiar enough with your work that they will be comfortable talking about it; 3) that will take the call.

Taking the call is important because we all avoid calls from people and numbers we don't know. Otherwise, we would spend all our time hanging up on car warranty pitches.

The best way to handle all of these things is to ask the person directly if they would be a reference for you. Tell them you are interviewing for jobs and give them a heads up about what you are looking for and how your work with them relates to the jobs you are interviewing for. Ask if it's okay to give a potential employer their name and ask them what method of contact they prefer. Then, when you provide the reference information, make sure to indicate the preferred method.

What if you hated your last employer?

Not every job works out. Companies and candidates make mistakes all the time. Hopefully, everyone parts on good terms. But that's not always the case.

If your last direct supervisor was a weasel you don't trust and who is likely to sabotage your offer, figure out who else you can use as a reference. Pick someone who knows your work there and that you do trust, even if it's not someone who supervised you. It could be a different team leader who you've worked with or a peer who you partnered with on a big project. Just ask them to explain that you asked them to be a reference because they are the most familiar with your work.

The other option is to not use a reference from that employer. If you were only there a few months, you may even want to leave that company off your resume. But if you were there for a while, definitely put the job on your resume and just don't give a reference from there.

In short, don't give references unless you are asked. Then give the names of people who know your work and like you.

Read on for more ways to make your job search a success: Data Collection for Your Resume Preparation

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