Great professional references can make or break your job search, yet they are often the most overlooked part of an otherwise strong career campaign. Many people assume anyone they have worked with would speak about them in a positive manner, but this is not always the case. Even with the best intentions, a poorly prepared reference, or one not completely familiar with a candidate’s work history or abilities, can do more harm than good, lessening the chances of the candidate being pushed through the application pipeline.
In some cases, professional references could mean the difference between receiving a job offer or not, so choose them wisely.
Employers typically request references as part of the hiring process to provide them access to someone who can vouch for what you say about yourself regarding skills, experiences, attendance or work ethic.
Ideally, it’s best to select a diverse set of references to showcase varied elements of your personality, work ethic or job-related skills.
I recommend having permission from five to six references and listing them in the order that you would like them contacted. Examples of potential choices for professional references include a current or former boss, a coworker, a direct report, a client or a customer. Other good choices include a coach, a professor or a business partner.
Here are five recommendations to make professional references a strong part of a successful job search strategy:
1. Think strategically. References are people who can confidently speak about your skills and accomplishments. They serve as support for the information you have shared about yourself with a potential employer. Choose people you have a good history with and who can speak to diverse parts of your professional story.
2. Professional vs. personal. Employers want substantiating information about your professional accomplishments, not what your friends think about you. Consider bosses, colleagues, subordinates, vendors or other industry-related people who have had positive experiences with you and are happy to share those experiences with others.
3. Ask for permission. Never assume just because you enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with someone that they will be a reference for you. Always extend the courtesy of asking permission to share their name and contact information with a potential employer.
4. Help them help you. Prepare your references to help them perform the best on your behalf. Let them know what job you are interviewing for and share your new resume with them. Advise them on the role you are applying for and what questions they should anticipate from an employer.
5. Say thank you. Just as you would to an employer following an interview, craft a sincere thank you note (email is fine) to anyone who provided a reference for you. Remember, serving as a reference is a courtesy, not an entitlement. Be grateful and be timely with your follow-up.
Continued communication with your references will keep them informed of the progress of your search and keep you top of mind with them. Do not allow your references to be caught off guard with a call from a potential employer; they may be unprepared to speak about you and potentially resentful that you were not more respectful of their time or contribution.
Well-prepared, engaged professional references can help seal the deal to land the job of your dreams. Choose them with care and treat them as the valued assets they are.
This article was originally posted Forbes.com on April 25, 2022 as part of the Forbes Coaches Council. The original article can be found here.
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