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Job References: Another Important Tool for Landing a Job

If someone tells you that references don't matter any more, don't believe them. Job References do matter. In fact, they are a critical part of the hiring process.

References uncover information that candidates leave out or perhaps lie about. They also shed light on each candidate's personality, work style or character - important factors in a workplace and difficult to learn about from one or two job interviews.

Checking references is time-consuming. Employers typically do not do it until they are ready to make an offer. They use references to confirm their impressions and make sure they didn't miss anything they need to know.

Similarly, as a candidate, you should not waste your references on companies that aren't serious about hiring you. Don't list your references on your resume. Instead, put them on a separate reference list that you give employers when they ask for it, which is usually when they are getting ready to offer you the job.

Choose Job References Carefully

  • Choose people who know you well to be referees. The ideal referee is a boss or supervisor from a previous job who is aware of your accomplishments and values you as an employee. You want people who know what you can do and have done, and will speak highly of you.
  • You can also use someone you worked with or someone who reported to you as a referee – it doesn't have to be a boss. Acceptable job references vary somewhat by industry. Sometimes you can use vendors, customers or business colleagues who did not work in your company.
  • Unless the hiring employer specifically asks for a personal reference, don't use friends or family members as references.

Contact Job References in Advance

Once you decide on the people you want to use for references, contact each one in advance to ask permission to use them as a referee. The last thing you want is for a referee to say to the hiring agent, "Sally who? Hmmm, let me see now."

When you speak to each referee, first make sure he or she remembers you. You may have to remind him or her of your employment dates and highlights of your career. You should reach general agreement on what your referee will say about you. If you sense the person is uncomfortable with your request or will not give you a strong recommendation, say thank you and move on to your next person on your list. Your goal is three to five good job references.

Keep your referees informed on the progress of your job search. If you expect the hiring agent to call on your references soon, let them know. It could be months between when you asked them to be references and when they get a call. Again, you don’t want them to be surprised by the call.

Job References Do Matter

One or two great job references can make the difference between getting the job of your dreams and being passed over for another candidate. A bad, or even a lukewarm reference, can cost you the job. Don't leave it up to chance.

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