How to Prepare Your References

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

If a job candidate is far enough in the interview process that the human resources professional is ready to ask for references, the candidate is close to being offered the job. For that reason, the references are crucial and have a significant impact on the final hiring decision. Any company that is going to hire you should ask for references, so be ready to give them at least three solid ones.

Choose References Who Will Portray You Favorably
When asking people to serve as a reference, choose people who are unquestionably ready to offer a glowing report. If you won't be using them immediately, you should chose people that you would naturally keep in contact with as you move along in your professional life.

You want people who have known you for a long time, and who can relay information about your proficiency, skill sets, attitudes, and behaviors. These would naturally be people you respect and care to keep in your network, so they will remain informed about the progression of your career or a trend in your working life.

For example, if they have seen the product of your most recent work, they can relay how you've built upon the skills you learned working together. Or if you have been working long hours with extraordinary endurance, they would be able to elaborate on your dedication. If you need "professional references," consider the following:

  • First, consider mentors, bosses, or coworkers who have had authority over you.
  • Extend the list to include any authority figure - professor, coach, counselor, etc.
  • Exclude family and friends from being references, as they aren't completely educated about your working habits.

The Basic Elements of Every Reference
When asked for a list of references, make it as concise as possible. Include only what is necessary: name, professional title, and telephone number.

The Etiquette of Establishing References

When to Ask
If you are thinking about leaving a job, ask for references before you leave. If you can help it, don't ask after you've already left. Not only is it easier to get someone to be a reference that way, but it's also better business etiquette.

How to Ask
Say something along the lines of, "In the event that I need a reference to speak about my work abilities, would you feel comfortable enough, knowing my background, to offer a positive recommendation?" The main idea is to get a glowing report. While you might think a well-rounded picture is more informative, it is not necessarily the best one to portray.

If there is any hesitation in your potential reference's response, don't use that person. Any apprehension might translate into a less-than-perfect report. Since you're looking for this discussion to propel you through the final phase and into the new company, hesitation is the last thing you need.

If the person is a solid mentor, you might also consider discussing what type of position you are looking for, or what you hope your new position will bring. Asking for advice is another opportunity to educate your references about your goals and engage them in your efforts.

How to Communicate with Your References
To maintain a polite communication with your references, do all their work for them, as follows.

Deliver your updated resume to them and tell about the job: why you're good, challenges and goals of the company, and how you fit.

  • Give them warning if you anticipate a potential employer might contact them (i.e.--if you are asked for references).
  • Tell them about the position you applied for. Detail the challenges the position might bring to you, and how you feel you can fulfill any expectations.
  • Outline why you are the best possible candidate for the job.
  • Ask them to tell you when they've spoken with the person, as a courtesy.

What to Expect from HR Managers
Almost every HR manager asks for references when seriously considering someone as a potential hire. For liability reasons, if for no other, they will call each one, assuming you've given them a realistic number.

What you've portrayed in your interview will narrow what they ask your references. HR managers are looking for inconsistencies between what you've told them and what your references say. In that way, you and your references will validate each other.

In their conversations with your references, the HR professionals will ask questions concerning your work habits, including the following:

  • Whether you're consistently late
  • The nature of your interactions with coworkers
  • Your attitude
  • Your competency
  • Your weaknesses