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Employment References

Tips on Asking For and Getting Effective Job References

Employment References
Stay in touch with your best references.

At some point during your job search, a potential employer will request references. Generally, a request for employment references is a good sign. Most organizations only request references if you’ve passed the initial interview vetting, and they view your candidacy positively. It’s not a guarantee of offer, but it’s an indication they’re feeling favorable enough about your potential to get more insight. That’s why it's important to be prepared to provide a list of employment references who can attest to the skills and qualifications that you have relevant to the job for which you are applying.

Plan ahead and get your employment references in order before you need them. It will save time scrambling to put together a list at the last minute. The reference list should contain full contact information for each reference including name, job title, company, address and contact information.

Keep in mind that employers don’t always stick to the references on the list you gave them. Employers may call anyone you’ve worked for or who might know you; they don’t have to limit themselves to the formal list of references you provide. The only person who’s typically considered off-limits in reference-checking is your current employer.

Who to Ask for a Reference

Since good references can help you clinch a job offer, so be sure to have a strong list of references with people willing to attest to your capabilities.  Start by making a list of between three and six people who you have worked closely with in the past and would have positive things to say about your character, skills and experience, especially as they relate to the new position you seek. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, former bosses, co-workers, customers, vendors, and colleagues all make good references. Employers will typically be very interested in your last one or two direct managers. If you’re just starting out, think of teachers, coaches, group leaders, neighbors, or volunteer, religious or community leaders.

About Reference Letters

Although asking for a reference letter from your supervisor or a co-worker every time you change employment is a good idea in theory, but in practice generic reference letters are not especially useful to an employer looking to evaluate your ability to perform a specific set of skills. Making sure your references are available for calls or emails is better, because this allows hiring managers to easily get the exact information they're looking for instead of trying to parse it from a generic letter of recommendation.

What To Tell Your References You Plan on Using

If you have a successful job interview and think you're in the running for a new job, it's vital that you contact your references to explain the experience, skills, and personality traits important to your perspective manager. With this information, they can tailor their comments to highlight your most important attributes. Also make sure that your references are available, not out of town or otherwise unreachable during the time period you think they will be receiving a call from the prospective employer.

How to Handle Something Negative in Your Employment History

Many large companies will only provide basic information such as job title and length of service when responding to reference checks. This is good news for job seekers who've left positions under less than ideal circumstances. However, it’s impossible to guarantee that the person answering the phone at your former company will follow this policy. Consider being proactive – contact the person you fear may provide a negative reference directly and ask whether you can work out a mutually agreeable response to reference requests. You may be able to gain their consent to offering a neutral reference – confirming only employment dates and title – and perhaps even a verbalization of what they view as your more positive attributes. 

Maintain Your Network

Don't forget to send a thank you note to those who provided you with a reference, whether or not you get the job. Stay in touch with your references. Call, email or connect via LinkedIn on a regular basis and let your references know of any significant work accomplishments, including awards or recognitions you’ve received. By marketing yourself in this way, your references will always be up-to-date on your career and able to speak to prospective employers in a more informed way.

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