Preparing Your References

You interviewed like a pro and now the employer is keen to make you a job offer. But first, they’ve asked you to produce a list of references they can contact in order to find out a little more about you.

Have you prepped your references well in advance so that they’re ready to speak on your behalf?

Timing Is Crucial

Once an employer has asked you to produce references, the clock is ticking against you so you need to act fast. That’s why there are two main things you should have done beforehand: one is to have chosen the right mixture of people who will agree to be your references, and two is to have gotten them ready to say pretty much what you’d like them to.

Sometimes the employer will allow you to pick anyone you want in terms of a reference. In this case, you’d probably want to go with someone who knows you from a job you’ve been at and will speak glowingly about you.

Or the employer might be more specific and ask, for example, to get in touch with:

• your most recent boss (unless you’re still working somewhere and notifying your boss of your upcoming departure would get you in trouble) or a previous boss

• a co-worker who is familiar with your performance on the job

• an employee who has reported directly to you, or someone else at your recent place of work who can speak about you knowledgeably

• a personal reference who can testify to your good character

In terms of choosing a co-worker, this can be anyone you’ve worked with fairly closely over the years who didn’t report to you, though it’s in your favour to choose someone at least at your level, if not higher.

Bigger titles can make a bigger impression.

As for someone you’ve supervised, they can either have reported into you – that is, you were their boss – or more informally, such as when you headed up a committee and had team members you oversaw.

Narrow this down to the ones who remember you and might be willing to say nice things about you.

Then add in one more selection criterion: their ability to present information effectively. It’s one thing to have your biggest fans wanting to rave about you. But if they can’t come across as professional or credible, strike them from your list. Same for anyone who might be holding a festering grudge against you.

Make It Easy For Your References

Once you have three or four relevant people – if available – who’ve agreed to provide testimonials, your task is to assist them by coaching them and reminding them of why you’re the ideal candidate for this new job you’re pursuing. Get in touch with each reference as soon as you can once you’ve been offered a job and have given out their contact info. Let them know that you are truly interested in this potential assignment and that their assistance would be really appreciated. Mention something toward the effect of how you’d like to make it as easy as possible for them to fulfill their duty, so would they mind if you gave them a few pointers on what they might say about you.

At that point you can do the following:

• Send each of them a page with some reminders of the key projects and accomplishments you were involved with

• Highlight some of your personal characteristics you’d prefer them to focus on (e.g. being reliable, hard-working, easy to get along with, not afraid to make tough decisions, etc.) that are relevant to the job you’re being offered

• Inquire about any questions they might have in terms of representing you

• One more thing: don’t be afraid to ask if there are any negatives they might be inclined to reveal if the potential employer probes. Better to deal with these issues here and now than to get sandbagged when it counts.

Thank Your Promoters For Their Efforts

It’s always nice to say thank you to the people who aid you along your road to a new job. References, in particular, can be the make-or-break point in the process, so be sure to praise them for saying such wonderful things about you. If you do accept the job offer, consider taking each of the references who were contacted out for lunch or dinner; it’s your way of celebrating success in the job hunt and sharing that excitement in a way that says “you helped make it happen.”



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