When it comes to the job search, references are typically more about validating a company’s decision rather than adding content or value to an application.
In many ways, references are your clincher. The company has probably already decided they want to hire you and just want to clarify that they’ve made the right choice. So who you choose as a reference can be vital. Like everything else in your job search, it should be deliberate and intentional. The following detail the type of references you should include:
- Those who know you well in a professional context — not a personal one. This person has seen you do your job and can attest to it objectively and without bias. They need to be able to speak to your subject matter expertise, command of the subject, ability to get along with a team, your strengths and weaknesses, quality of your work, and so on.
- People you have stayed in touch with. You should make a practice of contacting your references at least 2-4 times a year. This can be a quick phone call, email or meetup. Staying in touch will help them feel appreciated and will allow you to stay on top of their minds.
- Someone you have given directions to. You’ve provided them with a detailed outline of your skills, strengths, areas of expertise and projects that you have worked on together. This sets them up to make a great case for you on your terms.
- They know what to expect. After the interview, ask the recruiter when they plan to contact your references. This allows you to remain proactive and able to provide your references with a time frame regarding when to expect the call. Once the recruiter tells you their plan, you can review an outline with your reference.
- Someone you show gratitude toward. Always thank your references for their time and help. Let them know the results of the offer. Be sure to reciprocate any help if needed.
The following are types of references you should NOT include:
- Someone you’ve deliberately and intentionally decided can speak to your professional credentials, but are not listed on your resume. You’d be surprised by how many applicants try to name drop references on their resume. This takes up valuable real estate on the page and the hiring manager might decide those references are actually more qualified and a better fit.
- They are offered up quickly. Unless explicitly asked to do so, do not hand your references out like lost dog fliers. In most cases, a company is not going to hire you because of certain people you have listed as a reference.
- The person is someone you’ve neglected. When you neglect your references, you are demonstrating that you don’t care about them and are simply using them to get ahead. Why would they want to help you, if you don’t show them you care? Remember, we want to help people we like, and we like people who continuously make a connection.
- Family or friends. These people will obviously speak highly of you and are not going to be unbiased. Plus, it may be perceived that you don’t have anyone else to list as a reference, which can be a huge red flag for recruiters.
- Just 2 or 3. You should try to ask at least 4-6 people. The more references you have and can call upon, the better. If you only list 3 references and they have trouble contacting 2, it could slow the hiring process. Try to list 4-6 references, so an employer will be more likely to reach at least 2 or 3.
The bottom line is that you don’t want just any references, you want the right references. You want the people you choose to go to bat for you to be those who will present you in the best light. You want someone whose recommendation will seal the deal and land you that home run: a job offer.