When a potential employer, hiring manager, or recruiter look at your resume, they are looking at your past work experience, qualifications and skills as they pertain to the specific position you are applying to; however, your resume and interview are not going to show the full scope of your employment history and experience. In order to confirm the claims you have made on your resume and in interviews, employers rely heavily on feedback from your references. This makes your decision of whom to use as a reference very important, as it could easily make or break you.
When choosing your references, choose people who know you well, that you have worked with closely, and who will be able to discuss your work related qualities. Take a close look at the network you have developed throughout your career to find the right people. A common mistake is using a personal friend, but bear in mind they are not always the most credible references. Yes, friends are great to have, they make your life better and they will often have wonderful things to say about you, but while things friends can say are “nice,” employers are really looking for information about your professional career, not your social life. Unless your friend has worked directly with you, they most likely will not be able to validate the claims you have made towards your skills, work history (dates, titles, performance), or strengths and weaknesses within the workplace. Consider the following individuals to put forward as your references:
Supervisors (past and present, although, past is more likely the better route to take) – These people know how you work and act in a professional setting. A few things that they may be able to speak about are: Your reliability, integrity, initiative, and the quality and effectiveness of your work/performance. Your previous supervisors do not necessarily need to work in the same type of career you are applying for to be credible. The fact that you have worked with them and they can speak to your professional experience is enough to be a valuable reference.
Educators – Professors / Advisors / Faculty that you worked closely with will know about your academic acumen and productivity. They may also be able to speak about your ability to work with others or your leadership qualities. Information about your growth throughout your academic career can be telling information for potential employers.
Mentors – If you have been lucky enough to gain a mentor or two at this point in your career, they can be valuable people to add to your list of references. They can speak to your drive, ambition, passion, career goals, and depending on how much time you have spent with them, any favorable personal qualities about you that they will be able to vouch for.
- Always ask before listing someone as a reference and be sure to inform them of the position to which you are applying (you definitely do not want a potential employer calling a reference and having them not be prepared for it).
- If you have concerns about how a reference will talk about you (most common when using a previous employer as a reference), try discussing it with them and come to common terms on what they will discuss, or look elsewhere for a reference.
- Say thank you. Plain and simple.
- Follow up with your references and let them know the outcome. They will want to know.
- They cared enough to give a good reference, repay the favor in kind, if possible. This does not mean that you will have to be a reference for them, but if you can do something for them in the future you should reach out and let them know.
While a previous supervisor, manager or anyone that you previously worked under is ideal, keep in mind that you do have other options available. There are several potential reference choices, you just need to consider the person’s ability and willingness to speak highly of you. Think about what the employers want to hear and make your choices based on who will be best inclined to answer those questions.