References: What you need to know

So you’ve gone through the application process, mastered the interview, and now the company is interested in you. But before you can embark on stepping up to take your new boss’ job (I kid,….sort of) you need to come up with some references so that the company can do it’s due diligence to see if 3rd parties will concur what they think they already know about you.

So here’s where you come in. Who do you select to be a reference for you? The simple answer here is that you should use former supervisors or other people who managed you, in order to be able to best demonstrate certain things. Your former bosses can typically be a future employer’s best source for how well you performed your job, how easy you were to work with or collaborate with, and what kind of potential you may have with the work you do, or what you could expand into in the future. They say that past behaviors are the best indicator of future behavior – take that for what you’d like, but this is how most employers see it.

Simple, right? Not so fast.

You really need to carefully select and vet the references that you give to a prospective employer. You should really be doing this prior to embarking on any interview process. Assumptions on who will give you a positive reference are a dangerous track to take. It’s recommended that you have conversations with each of the people that you want to supply as references, prior to doing so, so that you are able to gage who would benefit you most. Be sure to let them know that you would like to potentially use them as a reference, and if they would be amenable to providing a positive reference for you. This is a great time to take stock of where your areas for improvement are, and getting that information from these trusted reference sources. This allows you to get a picture of what they may say during the reference process, which also allows you to utilize that information in your interviews with the prospective employer. Especially if the topic is about an area of development for you. It gives some credence to your statements if the employer can see that you have a good handle on your areas of weakness, especially if it is backed up by a reference. This isn’t always a bad thing. Employers want to know that potential employees have a good handle on their strengths and weaknesses alike.

Be sure to keep up with your references often as well. Don’t be the person who drops a line every few years, to ask for a reference for a job that you had 10 years ago. I have a former boss that I worked for almost 11 years ago, who still is one of my chief references. Sure, it’s been many moons since I worked directly for him, but we talk every few weeks, and still collaborate on networking events. So, he has not only seen me grow professionally as a recruiter, but also as a networker, and someone who’s grown in the industry. He can speak to my career development, even if it was not all on his watch. It’s a mindset of keeping important professional contacts very close to you.

Lastly, give ALOT of thought to the person you use as a reference. Unless the company specifically asks for personal references (more likely in state or federal jobs), always err on the side of professional references, and particularly supervisors. Giving the name of your family member who you work with on the side, your co-worker, (unless extremely relevant), your co-coach of the local CYA Basketball team, etc. just isn’t going to help the employer that much. They want to know about you at work, and how you perform there. Personal references are usually used more so to assess character.

References should be one of those tools in your arsenal that are always prepared, ready and able to assist in putting you over the top with that job you really want. Like any other relationship you value, you have to cultivate and maintain it to get the optimal value.

Trust me, ask my references.


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