I can’t stress this enough. References Really Matter. Really. And here’s the catch: Not in the way you think.
I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I’ve been the reference for many employees and I’ve had to check references on numerous candidates. I’ve noticed very important trends that should make you take note.
No surprises, please. Does this seem like common sense? Because it isn’t. I’ve called many references that didn’t know the candidate was searching for a job, didn’t know they were listed as a reference and didn’t know what to say. Always keep your references informed! Ask permission to include your reference on your resume’s list in advance and keep them informed for your job search. It will certainly boost your chances if your references are prepared to speak to your successes directly related to your potential job.
Pick people who really know you and like you. About 20% of the people I interview have a reference on their list that doesn’t really seem to like them and provides an average reference at best. Really? Did the candidate not know this was going to happen? Yes, you need to list professional references, but think about personal references that can speak to your character in a professional capacity. Maybe a volunteer site supervisor? A family friend and mentor? If you’re lean on the positive professional references – think about your best references, no matter who thy are – and list them.
Realize the importance of 6 degrees of separation. If I find a commonality between us that allows me to check with someone I trust, I’m going to contact this person – even if you didn’t list them as a reference. I will always do it. This person’s information could be what boosts you into the job or keeps you from it. The work you’re doing right now and the relationships you’re making are important. Realize the value of each situation and work to be a person of integrity.
Prep your references in advance. Even more than informing your references, give them information about the job you’re searching for. When I am contacted about being a reference for someone, I always ask them for a copy of their resume, a short description of the job and key words for the position. This gives me an information boost to really support the candidate and helps the employer reinforce the outstanding characteristics of their potential employee. Talk about perfect situation – wouldn’t you love to know that your references were this prepared!
Have everything ready in the interview. Sure, most resumes say “References available upon request” but I’ve never been disappointed as the interviewer to receive these with the resume. Save me time and don’t make me ask for items you are desperate to give me. And if you don’t have this prepared in advance – forget about it! Once in an interview, I asked a candidate for her list of references and she pulled out her cell phone to start scrolling through names. What is that craziness? How do I even know who those people are? Provide a typed list of reference names, contact information and titles. I also include the relationship to me on the reference – this allows the reference checker to know if they’re contacting my supervisor, volunteer coordinator or a mentor.
Your references matter and can be the difference between you sealing the deal for the job and letting it all slip through your fingers. Get your references ready now – it will make the difference when you need them.