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Good References? Check.

How to make sure your references provide a glowing report

ReferencesSo you’ve interviewed at the company of your dreams and you feel that it went really well. You keep visualizing them making you a job offer, which includes a hefty salary raise as well as a promotion. But before that dream turns into a reality, human resources contacts you and asks you to provide three references so they can check your credentials and your experience.

At this point in the job interview process, your references should be prepped and ready to go.

Here are a few ways to guarantee great references from your past employers so that your potential job offer becomes a reality.

Create a Reference List

Bettina Seidman, career coach, says your job-search prep work should involve creating a reference list. “List only business references and include no more than four to six names,” Seidman says.

To provide a full picture of your strengths, think about creating a set of references that includes a manager, a colleague, and someone who reported to you. You can also include a client, or a colleague in a different department that you worked with in some way.

It’s important to note that you should only list references that you are certain will sing your praises. To ensure this, Seidman advises that you call each person on your list and ask him or her if they are comfortable providing a glowing reference for you.

Also, unless you’ve taken them into your confidence, don’t assume that they know what you are up to in your job search. Describe the type of role you are looking for, and the companies you are marketing yourself to. This will help them start to think of ways they can support you.

Everyone you ask may not want to be a reference. Be professional and offer the person the opportunity to say no gracefully. You might say something like “It takes time to be a reference, and so I completely understand if you’re swamped.”

Managing Your References

As you progress through the interview process, it’s important to keep your references in the loop. The easier you make it for them, the better chance you’ll have of receiving a great reference.

  • Call them when you think you are getting close to getting a job offer. Make sure you describe the position and the company so that they can have a context for the conversation they’ll be having with the hiring manager. Don’t overlook the importance of sounding excited, as this will prompt them to share your enthusiasm.
  • Send your most updated resume across to them and confirm that they have it accessible. If they don’t, send another copy and confirm receipt with them.
  • Ask the hiring manager about the strengths of the person who previously held the job. Then, send your reference an email with a bullet point list of specific achievements/accomplishments that address those strengths. That way, they’ll have a story ready when the hiring manager calls.

Handling References in Tricky Situations 

Getting a reference can get a little tricky if you were let go from your job, or if you didn’t get along with your prior boss. Andrea Berkman, Founder & CEO of The Constant Professional suggests first trying to frame the departure as mutual.

Instead of asking your boss for a reference, Berkman recommends trying to get a client reference. “New employers love client references, as it shows that you’re able to carry your business relationships from one job to another. If you are pressed for a reference from your previous boss, give your boss’s name but direct the new company to try HR first,” she advises.

Keep in mind that while your previous employer might not give you the most glowing reference in the world, most employees, particularly those working in HR, are cautious about what they say because they are concerned about legal ramifications.

When it comes to providing references to a potential employer be sure to focus on colleagues and former employers who will give you a solid recommendation. Remember that a reference can make or break your job offer, so find your most enthusiastic cheerleaders and leave everyone else out.

When HR only verifies employment 

Some employers have a policy in place where they will only verify employment. If this is the case with your previous employer make sure your prospective employer is aware of this. If you don’t, it can catch someone checking your references off guard, leading them to believe that something negative happened during your employment.

Jodi R.R. Smith, President of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting recommends that you don’t ask a boss or colleague to go against company policy. People might do it all the time, but breaking the rules for a reference is unethical and it could hurt you in the long run.

“Instead, provide a copy of the policy and a copy of your most recent performance review as part of the application package,” she says. “Then, be sure to have references from other jobs, from volunteer commitments, from collaborative professionals, or even past clients.”

Following Up

Your references deserve a thank you email, as well as an email notifying them of the outcome. So even if you didn’t get the job, take the time to let them know. This is especially important if you want them to help you again in the future.

For the long-term benefit of your career, make an effort to keep your references in your network. “Keep track of them and be proactive by sending notes, copies of articles, or even attending conferences together,” Seidman suggests.

Remember to choose references that will enthusiastically vouch for you. If you doubt whether someone will, it’s best to keep him or her off your list. Once you have a solid four to six people you can count on, prepare them, keep them updated, and thank them for their time. If you do this, they are likely to tip the chances of a job offer in your favor.


About Carolina Baker

Carolina Baker has navigated the financial services field in New York City and London for the last eight years. Alongside her banking career, she has launched a freelance writing career, focused on career transitions, human resources, travel, and wellbeing. Visit her site for more information.


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