References — don’t make them an after-thought

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“References available upon request”

That’s probably the easiest sentence to write on your resume. Yet, when that “request” does come, are you ready with the best possible references to help you land the job?

Maybe not… Some recent studies have confirmed what many hiring managers already know so well — missteps with references can hurt job applicants. Common mistakes include not listing any former colleagues or bosses, not notifying references that a potential employer might be calling. Some applicants even make the foolish mistake of including fake references, or listing references that have nothing good to say about them.

The bottom line: References shouldn’t be an afterthought — and it’s best to start lining them up before pitching your resume. Here are three tips to get the right people, saying the right things about you.

Choose wisely: Your mom surely loves you, but she shouldn’t be listed as a reference. Rather, you want to get a solid mix of people familiar with different phases of your career who can vouch for your skills, attitude and character. The gold standard of references is your current supervisor, or if you are unemployed, your most recent boss as long as you are confident he or she will provide favorable feedback. Including your boss provides the best opportunity for your prospective employer to learn about your most current skills, experience and strengths. Tell the recruiter if you decide not to include your current boss because your search is confidential.  Beyond your boss, think of people who career writer Angela Rose calls your most raving fans.  And get more than three. Some employers will throw out the first three to six references, and then ask for more with the belief that those people offer the best opportunity to get candid insight on a candidate.

Prep your references: Call or visit potential references, and ask if they are willing to advocate on your behalf. It’s good idea to pay them a compliment, noting why you value their opinion and endorsement. Career consultant Rob Taub offers additional tips, including providing the reference with an updated resume and then discussing the specific skills, experience or characteristics you would like the reference to emphasize to potential employers. If the person is a former co-worker, make sure he or she is familiar with the circumstances around your departure so you are on the same page should that question arise.

Keep in touch: No need to check in with your references weekly, but it is good protocol to let them know that a specific employer might be calling. And if you asked someone to be a reference two years ago, don’t put him or her in a position of receiving a cold-call from a recruiter.  If your search is ongoing, check back with references on at least a quarterly basis and update them on your search so you remain fresh in their minds. If you get a sense that a reference is being hit up time and again make sure to acknowledge that, and offer to take them out of the rotation for a while. If you get a job, be sure to let your references know through a personal phone call or note of appreciation. You never know when you might need them again.

References are often the last step between you and a new job. Make sure they work for you – not against you.

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