How to Maximize References in Your Job Search

Follow these do's and don'ts and avoid sabotaging a career opportunity

References are important in sealing the deal during and after a job interview.

So you’ve tweeked your resume, your cover letter is a winner, and you’re ready to take on the job search. You’ve got a great network and you’ve made some quality connections. But what about those references? For success during and after an interview, references can be the last important component of the job search process that will seal (or break) the deal.

Here are some tips on what to do– and not do–when it comes to secruing your job references:

DO …

Let your reference know that they’ve been listed. “Call or send an e-mail saying, ‘I’m in job search mode and employers might be calling you,’  says Denise Felder, career coach and CEO of DeniseMpls Consulting Services. This will help in avoiding any misunderstandings when a prospective employer calls. It can also give you a sense of who is willing to refer you at all. Potential references will appreciate the fact that you’ve not only given the heads up, but you’re giving them the opportunity to tell you whether or not they feel comfortable being listed.

Bonus Tip: It’s a good idea to send a copy of your most updated resume for your reference so they can refer to it. “That will equip them to speak more in detail about your experience,” Felder says. “It also helps give them a sense of your experience and career goals.”

List people who you have an active rapport with. You don’t want to list someone you haven’t spoken to in years, Felder advises. Not only might they not be in a position to speak on your current abilities, but they might not be a good choice considering you don’t have a long-standing relationship with them. “As with any networking contact, its not just about job leads. It’s a two-way relationship,” adds Felder.

Bonus Tip: In keeping in touch with your professional network, whether its a former boss or a professor, give them an idea of your job leads or where you’ve sent your resume. This lets people know what your career goals are and might encourage them to give you more leads. And always say thank you via quick e-mail or call.

List relevant references. “List those that are relevant to job you’re applying for,” Felder says.  “They can give specifics about what you did on projects and other qualifications.” True, any good reference can speak to your general abilities; but it’s good to have references who can speak to skills related to your desired position.

Bonus Tip: If you’re just starting out or you’re changing careers, it’s good to brand yourself in the field you’re aspiring to get into. “For example, you may be a student or working part-time at a retail store, but you want to be or are studying to be an accountant. Let people know just that, versus telling them ‘Oh I’m just working part-time right now.’”

DON’T …

List family and friends. Unless it’s a family business, these are a red flags. And even with that type of business, the family member has to “put on the hat of professional, not family,” Felder says.

Major no-no: Having a parent call on your behalf.  “The minute your mom calls, all of the respect the employer has for you drops several points,” Felder says. Parents are not doing their children any favors when speakign to a prospective employer, she added. “They’re essentially saying my child is not capable.”

List references information or ‘references available upon request’ on your resume. “That’s a given. Most people know that.” Felder says.

Bonus tip: List them on a separate document with the same header (including name and contact information) and formatting as your cover letter and resume. “This looks more professional and helps if documents get separated upon receipt at the office,” Felder says.

Rely solely on recommendations via LinkedIn as references in your job search. “With social media’s importance in job searches and employee vetting, LinkedIn recommendations are often considered, but be prepared with your official list of references. For some employers, those are good enough,” Felder says. “Others are still going to ask for traditional references.”

Check out more resources on networking and job searching:

5 networking deal-breakers

Economista: Top Job Search Websites

10 Things You Should Never Do in a Job Interview

7 Things to Leave Off Your Resume

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