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When applying and interviewing for a new position, it is advisable to have a set of references separate from your CV or resume that are immediately available. Employers today are cautiously optimistic about new applicants, and it is always better to provide them with quality references ahead of time and set yourself apart from your competition.
Who should I use? Whether a fellow colleage, college professor, supervisor, community leader, or a former client or business partner, always choose people that know you well and will not hesitate to give a great recommendation. Make sure to list references that are readily available and/or return phone calls in a timely manner. This will enable a potential employer to quickly hear from multiple individuals about the quality of your performance, punctuality, and leadership capabilities.
Note that personal references such as your spouse or significant other, friends, or religious leaders are generally frowned upon unless you are new to the workforce or have been unemployed for an extended period of time.
Clue them in. Always ask permission before you include someone as a reference. If they are caught off guard, things may not go well, especially when the reference doesn't seem to know who you are or recall much about your job performance.
What information should be included? Include the full name of the of the person as well as their job title, relationship to you, business and email address, and current employer.
Will employers call only the references I provide? Although your current employer will usually be considered off-limits as a reference unless you list him or her, most states do not require companies to obtain permission to contact others you have previously worked for, or with. In fact, some employers feel they can gain a more complete picture of your past job behavior from those NOT on, or in addition to, your carefully chosen list of references.
Foster Gratitude. After leaving a job, send a note or card to your former boss, thanking him or her for the opportunity to work with them. Continue to keep in touch with former employers and co-workers through your networking circle (see: Networking toward Success) and invite them out to lunch on occasion. A birthday card or holiday greeting is a simple gesture that can continue to foster appreciation. It is also adviseable in most situations to give plenty of notice prior to leaving a job. Over time, a former supervisor may not recall if you gave one or two weeks notice, but they will certainly remember if you leave them a voicemail on the busiest day of the month informing them that your last day was yesterday.
Do reference letters matter? Yes and no. In addition to a "list" of references, reference letters can give a potential employer additional assurance that you have a history of skill and dependability. If your situation permits, make it a point to ask for a letter of reference or recommendation before you relocate to another office or change employers. If your supervisor or co-worker is moving or changing jobs, request one from them before they leave. Reference letters will rarely, if ever, substitute for "live" references that an employer can talk with, but they are nice to have on hand for a little added credibility.
What if my search is confidential? If you are discreetly looking for an opportunity that could jeapordize your current job situation, hold off from introducing your references, if possible, until you are a final candidate for the position. If using a recruiter to market your CV or resume, remind them that your search must remain confidential. A recruiter can alleviate much of the stress associated with performing a confidential job search since it is something they are accustomed to doing on a regular basis.
Choose Wisely. In summary, a reference should be a fellow professional that is readily available, well spoken, and more than willing to talk highly of you while providing an honest assessment of your performance and character. Remember that a great resume and a flawless interview can be quickly overshadowed by a reference that seems unprepared, hesitant, or indecisive in their responses.
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