One of the most important parts of the job-seeking or college admission process is the ability to provide quality references. If an employer or school asks you to supply them with references, it’s usually a clear indication that the testimony of those persons will play a big part in whether you get the job or get accepted. The old adage is still true: It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
With this is mind, references should be chosen carefully, strategically, and wisely. Consider these 5 tips the next time you submit the list of those who could very well make or break the decision to extend the offer. —Aisha Taylor
START AT THE TOP: When looking at your network and who to choose, the higher the position of the individual, the more credible their recommendation. It’s always best to go with a manager or top-level executive. When providing academic references, your professor, department chair, or dean are the best choices.
While your coworker or classmate who sat next to you might have wonderful things to say about you, it’s the opinions of those in leadership that really matter the most. A strong reference from the head of the department, or the company’s vice president carries much more weight than someone in the same role as you. If you don’t have top executives in your network to ask, focus on establishing relationships with key managers and leaders, because you’ll never know when you’ll need them to vouch for your performance.
MAKE SURE THEY KNOW YOU WELL: One of the worst things that a job seeker can do is submit the name of a reference who doesn’t really know them well. Yes, it’s best to submit the names of high-ranking individuals. However, if those persons don’t know you very well, it will be reflected in their recommendation.
Always list those who have worked closely with you and know your work ethic and contributions You’ll want to list someone who has worked closely with you or who has directly been informed of your contributions as an employee or student. The reference should be able to give specifics about your character and the quality of your work. Don’t sacrifice the importance of first-hand knowledge for the sake of listing an executive.
ASSESS THEIR ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE: It’s extremely important to list someone as a reference who is going to be able to give a glowing recommendation, verbally or written. If you know the individual doesn’t write or articulate well, he or she might not be the best choice. While they may have wonderful things to say about you, their inability to communicate effectively could be a negative reflection of your own skills.
MAKE THEM AWARE: You never want a reference to be caught off guard because they didn’t know that their name was submitted on your behalf. Always get their permission beforehand.
If you have references that you use all the time or have been using for years, be sure to give them a heads up when a specific employer or school plans to reach out to them. The more your reference knows about the potential opportunity, the better they’ll be prepared to speak on your skills and qualifications.
DON’T FORGET PERSONAL REFERENCES: While most employers and schools ask that you submit professional references, they also usually ask for at least one personal reference. These should not include your parents, spouse or siblings. However, they can be colleagues, long-time associates, or very close friends who can speak of your character outside of the workplace.
A personal reference will be able to share about your trustworthiness, reliability, and commitment to the community, family, and personal endeavors. These references should still be a professional, but doesn’t have to be someone you worked with in a professional capacity. It’s also important to note that tips 1-4 also apply to personal references.
Do you have any career advancement or job seeking issues you’d like addressed? E-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aisha Taylor (@realTAYLORmade) is co-owner and chief consultant at TAYLORmade Professional Career Consulting, a Web-based, full-service career consulting company committed to “equipping, preparing, and empowering today’s professional” globally. Check out her weekly insights on job-seeking and interviewing success every Friday on BlackEnterprise.com.