When you’re a candidate for a job, you’ll be asked for job references, and you’ve got to provide them. There are good ways and less good ways to do that.
Want to know a secret about references? It’s hit-or-miss as to whether a prospective employer checks them. Some companies do in every single case, no exceptions. Some almost never do (seriously!). Most fall somewhere in the middle.
The truth of the matter is this: by the time an employer begins checking references, they’ve usually decided whether they’re going to hire you or not. And – most would admit – if you couldn’t find a few people to say nice things about you, that probably would have come through in the interviews. In any case, giving a bad reference can raise legal issues, so the whole process is flawed.
Don’t put job references on your resume
First things first. Unless a job posting has specifically asked you to include your references on your resume, please stop. Just … stop. Recruiters don’t want them there (if we want them from you, we’ll ask for them separately), and I can promise you that your references definitely don’t want them there either. Resumes can stay on file indefinitely, their contact information shouldn’t be there.
Who makes a good reference?
Second, who should you ask to act as a reference? Not your best friend, not your mom. I wish I was exaggerating for effect, but I’m not. Professional references are exactly that: professional. Meaning three or four people you’ve worked with. A safe bet is to include people you’ve reported to directly. You might want to consider two former bosses and a former colleague to give a more rounded perspective. And if you’re in a management role, then it’s a great practice to include all three – one or two people you reported to, one peer, and one direct report. For each one, tell me what the working relationship was in the reference document; context is very helpful when I’m making the call. It should go without saying, but (again, I wish I were joking but I’m not) make sure these people are all smart, well-spoken and prepared with a few ‘talking points’ that are specific and reflect a positive experience working with you.
Make sure your job references know
Third and finally, please keep in touch with your references, and let them know that they might be contacted – always checking in to get their permission to include them. If they’re still game to speak on your behalf, tell them a bit about the job you’re applying for, and why you think it would be such a great fit. There’s nothing worse than being taken off guard by a reference check, completely unprepared and – worst of all – having to struggle to remember the person you’re being asked about.
Oh, wait. I lied. There is something worse: being the recruiter making that call. Take it from me, I’ve been there.