by Tom McBroom -

When you are asked by a potential employer for your references, always keep in mind that they mean your professional references, NOT your personal references. Even if the term they use is “personal references”.

What the employer wants is a list of people who know you as a business person and are familiar with the quality and quantify of your work. They are not interested in personal friends who will confirm what a nice person you are. What they want to know is how well you can do the job.

With this thought in mind, some types of professional references are more credible in the eyes of the hiring manager than others. For example, generally speaking, the higher the position held by your reference, the better. The best reference is one of your prior bosses, as they can speak most knowledgeably about your work. And the absolute best reference, the gold standard of references, is a prior boss who also now works at the company for which you are interviewing. They will be the first reference called and will also be given the most weight. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy this rather uncommon type of reference (assuming, of course, that you are well thought of by this person), you will be ahead of most of the other applicants.

The next best reference is a highly placed person who has worked with you in the past and can comment on your experience and competency. Again, the higher the title of this person, the more weight will be given to their reference.

After that , you next best choices are customers for whom you’ve done work previously, or people who have worked under you (if you have supervisory experience). While carrying less weight than the best references described above, they still have value as a business reference and are far better than someone who only knows you personally and not professionally.

Regardless of who you choose as references, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Always get permission from your references to use them as a reference. There’s nothing worse than being called as a reference for someone who is job hunting and being caught by surprise. This is how negative references can materialize!
  • Tell your references that you are actively job searching, so they can be prepared for a call, or perhaps multiple calls.
  • Whenever you have an interview, let your references know and tell them all you can about the company and the position for which you are interviewing. The more your references can tailor their remarks to that specific company and position, the better will be the results of the reference call.
  • Always offer to reciprocate to your references and offer to be a reference for them, should they ever need one.

Handled properly, your reference list can be the determining factor in whether or not you land that job. As a hiring manager, I’ve more than once used references as the tie breaker between two otherwise equally qualified candidates.

So always remember to treat your references as the valuable resource they are and you’ll give yourself that extra edge that just may put you in the hired column.

Tom McBroom has been a Hiring Manager for over 25 years and manages the website http://www.job-search-steps.com, which is dedicated to helping you find a job quickly. Visit his site for complete information about conducting a job search, writing resumes and cover letters, and interviewing.

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