References can be some of your most valuable players in your job search but are often an afterthought for job seekers. Your references can either make your application sizzle or fizzle, so why aren’t you giving them a little more TLC? Here are our tips to enlisting a stellar lineup of references so that they are really working for you as Job Search MVPs!
Reference checks at the very minimum are used to verify your past roles – dates of employment, position, performance and perhaps compensation. Ideally you’ll want to provide your direct superior for your most recent role. However, if you are searching confidentially, other former bosses, board members and business partners can make good references. Avoid using colleagues who are the same seniority as you, as well as anyone who only worked with you briefly. A good reference reviewer will be able to quickly spot if a reference actually worked closely with you or not.
Don’t Overplay Them
What’s the harm in handing out references with every job application? Well the problem is two-fold. 1) References probably don’t appreciate you handing out their information all over town, and 2) You don’t want to wear them out.
Like any MVP, you don’t want to risk burn out. Play them at the most critical points of your job search. Wait till you are at a more qualified stage in the process when references are actually requested. Ideally you should have already had an interview and are sure you want to work for the company. That way they’ll be fresh and excited to give you some glowing praise when that phone rings.
It should also go without saying you should get permission from all your references before you give out their details.
Prep your references so that they aren’t just selling you for ANY job but THIS job. Giving them a heads up isn’t just common courtesy; it’s in your best interest as well. Give each one a quick phone call or email to brief them about the role, company, and who they’ll likely be talking to. Specifically mention the key requirements of the position and remind them of your relatable skills and experience that they can reference.
Play To Their Strengths
You don’t have to use the same references for every job. Tailor your choice to the strengths of the job and relevance of the reference. Some of your references may even have existing relationships with your target companies. Do your research on LinkedIn looking for shared connections and who can help you ‘put in a good word’.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! References don’t hear this nearly as much as they should. Remember to thank your references once they’ve done the legwork. Nurture those relationships so that they’ll continue to be great references down the track. And when you leave any job, try to part on good terms and reach out to them so they stay in your professional network.