If you are interviewing for a job, chances are your references will be called upon to testify to your work performance before an offer is made. On average, employers check three references per candidate, so have at least that many ready and willing to vouch for you.

But who should you ask? Generally speaking, the more impressive the reference’s title, the more impressive the testimonial. However, the last thing you want your potential employer to hear from the executive-level leadership at your previous organization is, “Jane who?

Conversely, listing a subordinate is tempting, but I have seen this tactic fail. When pressed about a boss’ weaknesses, one reference confessed she was often the victim of a lost temper instead of saying something like, “He just cares too much about the job which has led to occasional overzealousness”.

The safest way to go is with a direct supervisor with day-to-day knowledge of your work.

Finally, keep it professional. Character references from friends and family members are of little value to hiring managers.

Once you have selected your references, ask for their permission. Don’t ask, “Would you be a reference for me?” Rather, ask “Do you feel you know my work well enough to give me a good reference? That way, your potential reference has an easy out if he or she is not comfortable with being contacted and you can be assured that those who say “of course” will be enthusiastic and positive about your performance. Get their most up-to-date contact information and provide them with an updated copy of your resume, skills, and accolades. Ask them how and when they prefer to be contacted.

Referencing your references has become common practice. Because recruiters know you are going to reference those with only great things to say about you, they may ask, “Who, other than you, has direct knowledge of Jane’s work performance? Can I have their contact information?” So ask your reference the same question – “Who would you recommend as another reference for me? If they name someone you are uncomfortable with, suggest an alternate.

References can make or break the deal. A little forethought and preparation will go a long way in clinching your job offer.


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