References that Help You Seal the Deal

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

If you are like most people in the midst of a job search, you probably haven’t given your references much thought. You’ve likely spent more time on your resume, cover letter and networking activities. But references can have a significant impact on the final hiring decision. You need to be ready at a moment’s notice to provide potential employers with at least three solid references.

Human resource managers almost always ask for references when they are seriously considering someone for a position. You want to make sure that you provide a list of individuals that will speak about you in a positive way. Potential employers will also look for inconsistencies between information from your interview and on your resume and what they hear from your references.

Here are some things to consider so you can be sure that your references are the best they can be:

Don't leave anything to chance

References carry a lot of weight and can really make or break your chances of landing that new job. References and past employers won't call and warn you that they are not going to be complimentary. It is wise to take more control by finding out what every potential reference will say about you. This way you can weed out the weakest references and keep the top three or four for the final list to share with potential employers.

Keep it current

Try to keep a running list of recent references if possible. Ask for references before you leave your current job. Say something like "If I need a reference, would you feel comfortable offering a positive recommendation?" Avoid using that person as a reference if there is any hesitation on their part.

Verify information

Make sure that your records are correct. When listing your job with a previous employer, be sure that your job title matches the information that organization has on record for you. This can be resolved by a quick phone call to the HR department. Don’t let inconsistencies of this sort reduce your chances of getting the job you want.

Don’t surprise anyone

Stay in touch with your references and let them know that you are currently seeking employment. Don’t let them be blindsided by a phone call from a potential employer. And make sure that the contact information you provide on your reference list is accurate and up to date.

Don’t rely on relatives as references or a letter of recommendation

Potential employers want to hear about your work experience so references of a personal nature are not the best choice. Additionally, although letters of recommendation can be helpful, information such as title and contact names can change over time. Make sure that the information in your letter of recommendation is correct and up to date by contacting the author of that reference periodically.

Make it easy

People are more likely to be a reference for you if you help take the weight off of them. Make it easy for references to say good things about you.

Let them know what you’ve been up to and provide them with an updated resume.

Give them warning that a potential employer has asked for references.

Ask them to let you know when or if they have been contacted.

Always follow-up and say thank you

After your job search is over, contact your references to thank them and let them know how their referral paid off. Be sure to ask if there is any thing you can do for them in return.

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