How to Choose Great References
After you complete your resume and tailor your cover letter to meet the needs of your target employer, your job won't be finished just yet. If all goes well, your reviewers will like what they see in your application, and the next stage of the selection and hiring process will be set in motion. You'll be called in for an in-person interview and eventually, you'll probably be asked to supply a list of professional references.
For most employers, reference checks represent the final stage of the selection process. By this point, candidate pools have been heavily narrowed down, and only a few contenders remain. So it's safe to say that if employers are personally contacting the individuals you've listed as references, they already like you…But will they ultimately choose you over the handful of other applicants in the winner's circle? Here's how to increase the odds of a "yes".
1. Choose a mix of close and high-profile connections.
If you've been asked to supply five names, make sure you include at least one contact who knows you very well and has worked side by side with you for a long time. And choose at least one who may not know you quite as well, but who can offer the benefit of experience and influence. For example, your immediate supervisor may fit into the first category; he knows you on a personal level and trusts you implicitly. The CEO of your most recent company, on the other hand, fits into the second category. She may not know you intimately, but her voice and opinions carry a certain gravitas due to her experience and professional stature.
2. Choose references who can think on their feet.
When they contact your references, wise potential employers will ask difficult questions. They won't limit the session to easy softballs like: "Did you like working with this candidate?" Instead, they'll deliver curve balls that may require a moment of thought and reflection on the part of your carefully chosen reference. Before you add a name to you list, pause and think about how he or she might answer a tricky question like this one: "Can you name one task or responsibility that you would assign to someone else instead of this candidate?" Choose references who will answer without missing a beat in a way that reflects well on your skills and talents.
3. Choose references who are enthusiastic.
When you ask your former boss or professor if you can use her as a reference, listen closely to the answer and read between the lines. If she avoids eye contact and mumbles a response before changing the subject, this is not exactly an enthusiastic yes. On the other hand, if your chosen reference seems genuinely excited to support the next stage of your career growth and she seems pleased and honored to be part of your team, add her name with confidence.