Selecting Your References!

By Joe Stein

If you have reached the reference stage in the job search process, then things are looking up.  Typically, if you are asked for references, this is a sign that you are the leading candidate or on a very short list for the job desired.

You should have already selected your references and be ready if/when asked by a Recruiter for this information.  You do not want to delay the process by trying to decide who you will select, or searching for their contact information.  The time it takes for you to do this, may mean that another candidate receives a closer look for the position.

So, in the spirit of being prepared, what should you do now (prior to being asked) in order to select the best individuals for references?

• Be Willing – You need to make sure that they will want to serve in this role for you.  Some people are uncomfortable giving a reference for another person.  Others may just be so busy that it is difficult for them to return calls or e-mails on non-essential matters.  Always make sure you have the permission to use a person as a reference prior to listing them as one.  Don’t have any of your references caught by surprise with a call from a Recruiter.  Select people who are comfortable speaking on the phone, and can communicate clearly using that medium.
• Be Accessible – A Recruiter does not want to make multiple calls or chase after a person for a reference.  As a Recruiter, if you are at this stage in the process, you want to either make an offer or move on to the next best candidate.  This leaves little patience for unreturned calls or phone “tagging”. Whomever you should select should be accessible (not on vacation, etc.) and have a couple of different ways of being contacted.  When listing your references, make sure you have the most updated contact information for each.
• Be Positive – You obviously want a good reference from the person providing one.  A discussion with the potential reference should provide you a good idea of what the person is planning to say.  If you are comfortable with this information, then move them forward as a reference.  There is nothing wrong with providing the person a little “coaching”, by informing them what appears to be important to a company ( a really good reference will be asking you these types of questions) and leading he or she towards the direction you want them to follow.
• People Who Know You – Choose individuals who can confidently and specifically speak about you and from relatively recent times.  If you select a former colleague from 25 years ago, this individual will probably add little value as a reference, even if they have very positive things to say about you.  People change somewhat over time, and a Recruiter will probably label any information from a person like this as dated.  The selected references should be able to speak on behalf of your performance, work behaviors, and accomplishments.  They should be able to provide the Recruiter with specific examples when asked.  Unless specifically told to use personal references, you should focus on individuals who know you professionally.  
• Choose a Mix – You want to provide a few different perspectives about yourself.  A good mix is often someone you worked for, someone you worked with, and someone who reported to you (if you have led others).  This mix provides a nice cross-section of points-of –view for a Recruiter to speak to.  If you and the Hiring Manager mutually know someone (and both have a positive opinion of the person), then that person may prove to be very valuable to you as a reference because of their built-in creditability.  If you are someone relatively new in your work career, then consider individuals such as Teachers/Professors, athletic coaches, volunteer leaders, etc. - anyone who can speak about you outside of your scope of family and friends.

A Recruiter should use the list provided by you as the basis of their references.  If the Hiring Manager may know someone who you have worked with and he or she is not on the list, be prepared that they may still reach out to that person whether formally or just through informal conversation.  If you are currently employed and do not wish to have your present employer contacted, make sure the Recruiter knows this information.

The reference is one of the final steps for a prospective employer, prior to offering you a position.  It generally serves to validate why they like you for the role and may provide some guidance for the employer regarding what opportunities you may have, if selected.  By carefully choosing and preparing your references, you can go a long way to moving yourself from candidate to offer.

As always, best of luck in your job search!