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Finance Professionals: Don’t Overlook The Value Of Great Professional References!

As this year comes to a close, you may be thinking about what 2018 has in store for you and your career. For many, a new year means looking for new career opportunities that may present themselves. While you may be preparing for going on interviews and revamping your resume, there is one key area you won’t want to overlook; your professional references.

“Many finance and accounting professionals make the mistake of treating references as a formality,” says Paul Herman, a Senior Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Financial Services division. “You can do everything right in the interview, but if you wait until the last minute to secure references, you risk losing the position to another candidate who has taken the time to ensure their references have been properly prepared.”

To ensure your professional references position you for success, consider these best practices from Paul:

Be selective:

It’s best to have at least two professional references for each role you apply to, and who you select can make all the difference. To put you on the right track, it’s perfectly acceptable for more entry-level candidates (0-2 years) to ask a college professor or an internship coordinator you had while you were at school. If you’re more seasoned though, it’s best to choose a colleague or someone who collaborated with you on a project, as well as someone who has worked in a supervisory role with you. In any case, all of these professional references should have a strong understanding of your skills and work process.

It also couldn’t hurt to select someone from an industry-related organization, like Hedge Funds Care, who can speak about your personal attributes. These contacts may have an established connection with the prospective employer, which could ultimately work in your favor!

Keep your options organized:

As you brainstorm who you’d like to have as your professional references, draft a spreadsheet dedicated to the people who you would consider as references and think about what would make them a good resource for different types of roles. You may find that you have multiple people who you could choose, but may not be sure as to who your best bet is.

To narrow this list down, go a bit further with your spreadsheet and create columns for who the person is, their current job title, how you know them, what kind of work you have done with or for them, and their contact information. From there, you can analyze who the best people for the task will be. Based on what position you are a candidate for, your professional references could change.

When to reach out:

As you begin to progress throughout the interview process, you may want to get a head start on reaching out to your professional references. While we don’t discourage being proactive, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve gotten to at least the first interview for a role before you initially make contact with a reference.

“The best time to reach out is once you get to the second round of interviews, since the discussion you have with your professional reference about the role will still be fresh in their head, and they’ll be ready to receive a call over the next couple of weeks,” Paul says. “It will also be a good time to gauge whether or not your desired reference will be on-hand once your potential employer calls. In the past, I’ve seen candidates miss out on opportunities because a hiring manager was unable to reach a reference in time.”

Be transparent during the discussion:

When you speak to your professional references, be sure to start the conversation by reminding them of who you are, how you worked together, and what you’ve been up to since you last spoke. Once you send them the job description, talk with them about the role and specifically ask them whether they feel comfortable being your reference. If they aren’t sure, it’s better to go with someone else who is better equipped to provide you with a positive reference.

Should they agree to be your reference, talk to them about how this role fits in with your long-term goals and what you can bring to the company should they hire you. Most importantly, discuss what you want them to highlight once your prospective employer contacts them. “Your professional reference needs to be able to confidently discuss how your skills, experience, and personal attributes make you a fit for the position at hand,” explains Paul. “That’s why this conversation is key. It will help them anticipate what to say.”