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To land your dream job, you will want a list of strong references to help persuade employers that you’re the perfect candidate for a new job or promotional opportunity. Influential references can tip the scale when the decision comes down to you or another highly qualified candidate. Many people in your life could potentially be asked to serve as your reference, but choose wisely. The quality of your working relationship with each person should be the determining factor.
Employers prefer a list of professional references, ideally current and former supervisors. The reference list should be separate from the resume.
Where to List References
Don't waste precious resume space by stating that references are available upon request, which is a given. Most applications are submitted online with an uploaded cover letter, resume and separate list of references. Some employers prefer to wait until later in the hiring process to request references.
Tips for Identifying References and Relationships
When weighing potential references, a relationship with that person is all important. For instance, individuals acting as references are typically asked at the beginning of the interview to explain how well they know the applicant and in what capacity. Only ask someone to be a reference if you can count on a glowing recommendation.
Refrain from choosing references based on their status and prestigious title. For example, if you have only talked to your store manager a few times, ask the assistant produce manager who supervises you to be your reference instead of the top dog of the company. Provide your references with a copy of your resume to help them come up with examples of your accomplishments, awards and honors.
Ask Current or Former Supervisors
Select references who know you well enough to verify your employment dates and the information that you provided on your resume pertaining to your job title and duties. Provide three to five references because some companies will only release the dates of employment no matter how great an employee performed. Human resources staff prefer hearing from the applicant’s current or former supervisors.
Some companies will settle for reference letters, while others request a list of names and phone numbers for the purpose of arranging a telephone interview. After obtaining your permission, your references will be contacted and asked to comment on your:
- Ability to work with others
- Tolerance for stress and ambiguity
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Eligibility for rehire
Ask Colleagues and Co-Workers
When considering possible references, relationships with colleagues can be a good option if you prefer not to list your current or former supervisor until you are a finalist. Employers want to find out if your self-perceptions match up with how others see you. For example, red flags go up if you define yourself as an outgoing team player, but your colleagues describe you as an introvert who likes to do your own thing.
Colleagues and co-workers can offer examples of your:
- Leadership style
- Problem-solving effectiveness
- Creativity and resourcefulness
- Communication skills
Ask Teachers and Professors
If you are a college student or a recent graduate needing a job reference, relationships with professors or even high school teachers make them someone to ask if your work history is limited. Many skills learned in the classroom are directly transferable to work settings. Further, your instructors can stress your perfect attendance record, attention to detail, technology skills and attributes such as:
- Critical thinking skills
- Analytical abilities
- Potential for growth
- Openness to constructive feedback
Consider Your Circle of Friends
In some instances, you may be asked to provide personal references. When selecting personal references, a relationship with a family friend, minister or next-door neighbor is appropriate. A close friend may even serve as a personal reference if able to give specific examples that reflect your good character, such as what you did to become an eagle scout. Personal and character references typically comment on observed behavior such as:
Dr. Mary Dowd brings decades of hands-on experience to her writing endeavors. Along with general knowledge of human resources, she has specialized training in affirmative action, investigations and equal opportunity. While working as a dean of students, she advised college students on emerging career trends and job seeking strategies. As director of equal opportunity, she led efforts to diversify the workforce and the student body.