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How to Pick Your Professional References

As a job seeker, your references can make a world of difference when applying for a new position. They can act an endorsement of your skills, work ethic, and overall attitude, so it’s important to choose wisely! Since a hiring manager will use a candidate’s references to guide their final decision, you should take the time to carefully consider what a reference will say about you before submitting an application. To help you get started, here are a few pointers to help you pick your best references.

Make a list

When looking to uncover the best potential references, start by organizing your options into an easy to read list. Regardless of who you’re thinking of choosing, creating an Excel spreadsheet is one of the simplest ways to keep track of your contacts. To create an organized list, use the columns to record:

  • Full names and job titles of those you believe could potentially serve as a reference
  • At least one up-to-date method of contact
  • A brief description of your professional relationship
  • Jobs you would like to list them as a reference for
  • The date(s) you’ve contacted them

As you apply for jobs, this will help ensure there is no confusion about who you’ve reached out to and when.

Choose wisely

Scan your list for individuals you’ve had a positive and productive work relationship with. Your selections in this category don’t need to have the flashiest job titles, but they should be able to provide examples that illustrate why you’d be a great hire. For example, the best references generally include those who have the credibility to attest to your specialized skills and professionalism such as previous managers, former clients, or mentors.

Additionally, it’s a smart idea to choose references with strong communication skills. For example, if in your previous experience they often sent typo-laden emails or forgot to return phone calls, they may not be the best choice to interact with a hiring manager.

Reach out to your top 3 choices

Now that you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to contact your top three potential references. Remember, not everyone may have the time or desire to be a reference and it’s important to respect that, but you never know until you ask. When reaching out, be sure to include:

  • A quick reminder of your professional relationship
  • A summary of your current position
  • What your career goals are
  • How finding a new job will help you to reach these goals

If any of your contacts grants you permission to use them as a reference, remember to send a thank you note detailing your appreciation as well as an invitation to return the professional favor in the future.

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