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References Done Right: How to Compile the Best List

job referencesCompiling good references the right way can mean the difference between getting your foot in the door of your dream job and having it shut in front of you. Job references can offer valuable insight into a candidate’s character and work style. According to CareerBuilder, 80 percent of hiring employers do contact listed references — yet many job seekers continue to neglect their importance. 3 in 5 employers reported hearing negative feedback about candidates when they contacted their references, and nearly 30 percent have caught fake ones. While the weight placed on references during the hiring process varies from company to company, job seekers should not take any chances on potential career opportunities. Consider the following when making your list:

Tailor Your Reference Choices
What employers hope to glean from your references (besides confirmation of your employment) is a sense of your prior job responsibilities, experience, strengths and weaknesses. They may also want to hear about your professional accomplishments, address concerns they may have about you, and hear how you might fit into their work culture. Use what you’ve learned from the job description or your interview to select references who can discuss the above with your potential employer.
Pick the Right People
While it may be tempting to pack your list with colleagues, friends, and family who can enthusiastically speak of your merits, they may not carry the same professional credibility as supervisors who have evaluated your work performance. Your references should have had professional contact with you on a daily or otherwise regular basis, and a more intimate professional contact may be able to speak in more detail of your personal qualities. If your references weren’t closely associated with you, chances are they’ll give vague answers when asked about your performance or character (if they agree to be interviewed at all) — this is a red flag to hiring managers that you either listed an inappropriate reference or that the contact is hiding something negative.
Ask First and Make it Easy
Don’t let your references be caught off guard. If they aren’t prepared to talk about you, they may fail to present you in the best light. Beyond being common courtesy, checking in with a reference gives them opportunity to refresh their memories; this is particularly important for former employers you haven’t seen in awhile. If they are willing, take the time to review your responsibilities, performance, and highlights. Furthermore, notifying a potential reference beforehand ensures that you list contacts who can actually talk — some companies have strict reference policies that only allow its employees to reveal dates of employment and salary. When possible, provide your references with a copy of your resume and the job description to make it easier for them when they get the call. Thank them for agreeing to be your reference, and keep them updated on the status of your job search.

Like any other step of the job search, compiling references requires diligent preparation. Taking the time to do them right allows you to maintain positive relationships with former professional connections, and can take you one step further towards a great career opportunity.