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Applying and interviewing for a job is sometimes a one-shot deal, so be prepared to bring references when asked. Many job seekers assume that prospecting employers do not bother checking references and that the reference list is merely a formality. However, in a crowded labor market, employers want as much information about job applicants as possible to help weed out candidates who falsify experience and qualifications. Disregarding this important component in the hiring process can lead the hiring manager to eliminate you from consideration.
Function and Use
Managers and human resources personnel have to make hiring decisions based on available information, including using the data on your application and resume. When that is not enough, the employer commonly asks for additional personal references, who can attest to your potential as an employee, from a third-party perspective. Although your resume and cover letter tells the story of your career, it is in your own words, like an autobiography. Prospecting managers want to know what other like-minded managers have to say about your personality, work ethic and other factors that aren't so easily conveyed in your self-depiction.
The statement, "Bring your references," usually refers to a physical piece of paper that neatly and thoroughly lists the people and organizations who can vouch for you. However, in many instances, the job application at the human resources office (or online) includes a fill-in-the-box section titled "References." To come prepared, create a new document dedicated to your references, similar to the format you use to set up a document for your resume. Begin the top portion with your name and contact information. Add a section heading titled "References." List the first reference's name, department, position, address and phone number, all on separate lines. Then write a brief comment about your relationship to this person. Space out each of your references, similar to how you list work experience on the resume.
Many job seekers had friction with a past manager and employer. If this is your experience, too, don't include this person's information on the reference list. However, many prospecting employers still do background checks, looking for unemployment date gaps. List previous jobs on your resume to show that you are at least being honest about your past. Be sure to call the past managers in advance, asking permission to be used as a reference so they aren't blindsided by an inquisitive telephone call from the hiring company. Also, many companies have a policy of directing background reference checks through the HR department only, excluding the person who supervised your work directly. This situation is somewhat out of your control and based exclusively on what HR has in your employee file.
Letters of Recommendation
The hiring employer may want specific contact information for your references to perform independent background and fact checks. However, consider asking your reference to write a letter of recommendation, especially if she is too busy to take time to answer questions from your new company. These letters often require a little more work on the part of the personal reference but if written with care, can bolster your chances of being hired.
- "The Wall Street Journal"; Do References Really Matter?; Elizabeth Garone; March 2009
- Purdue University: Online Writing Lab: Reference Sheets
- CIO.com; Professional References: 7 Deadly Myths; Jeffrey Shane; April 2009
- Harvard Business Review; HBR Blog Netowrk; How to Ask For a Reference Letter; Jodi Glickman; April 2010
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