Here’s a question to ponder: who will vouch for you to employers? No job reference will be perfect for every scenario. As with other facets of your job application, your reference list needs to be unique and targeted to the position itself.
Job references are a living, breathing part of your personal marketing strategy. Pick the right one and you can address any extra concerns an interviewer might have without ever uttering a word.
What should your references convey?
Before completing your job application, look at the technical and interpersonal skills required of the position. Your job references need to help align you with those hard and soft skills.
For example, if the position requires daily use of complex software, include a reference who can assert your expertise with that program. If the position requires strong leadership, include a reference who can convey your ability to take the reins and propel projects forward. All major job requirements should be addressed by your collective references.
Additionally, the majority of the people you include should be from recent positions. Any job references that appear to be plucked out of antiquity (people from beyond three jobs prior) will give the impression that you peaked long ago. Only delve into your deep, dark past if you are switching industries and it can help show that you learn quickly.
Keeping references on your team
You now have your job references in order? That still isn’t enough if you’ve fallen out of touch with them.
Imagine you receive a call out of the blue from an employer regarding someone you worked with several years ago. If you haven’t kept in touch, how inclined are you to help that person? And even if you’re gung-ho to give a good word, you may not know about that person’s current achievements.
A strong job reference is one who is eager to be your advocate, knows about your current career exploits, and can talk you up all day long. That means regular contact. Anyone you include in your reference list needs to be someone you’ve seen in the last six months. If that’s not the case, make time for that person. Coffee or lunch can go a long way to patch up your reference network.
Giving your references a few pointers
If your job application catches an employer’s eye and they decide to call your job references, it’s a good idea to brief each reference in advance. Talk about what the company does, which anecdotes or achievements are most relevant, and what you’ve already told the company. That way, your job references can act as the best representation of your career in-action.
And when you get the job, be gracious. Thank any of your references – in person, in writing, or by phone – and keep them in the loop. Better yet, pay the favor back if you can. You never know when you’ll need them in the future.
by James Walsh