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How To Handle Job References Like A Pro

As you look for a new career opportunity, putting together job references may not be high on your priority list. After all, a hiring manager likely won’t be reaching out until you’ve had an interview— leading you to believe that this is something you can consider later on. However, you should be giving considerable thought to who you should choose as job references at the onset of your search! Not only can a solid professional endorsement give you an edge over your competition, but the quality of your references can be what lands you at the top of a hiring manager’s wish list.

Because of this, you want to be strategic about how you handle job references during the hiring process. In order to make sure yours give you the competitive edge you need, here are five things you need to do:

Be selective

Sixty-nine percent of employers said they have changed their mind about a candidate after reaching out to their job references. Since a reference can be what makes or breaks your chances of receiving a job offer, you should be extremely selective about who you choose.

When looking to uncover the best potential references, start by organizing your options into an easy-to-read list that includes their job title, contact information, and some context on your professional relationship. Since you may be asking for different types of job references throughout your search, it may be helpful to include a mix of supervisors, peers, and subordinates from various roles you’ve held. Everyone you ultimately select should be able to credibly vouch for your skills and the value you can add to the organization.

Ask in advance

Proactively reach out to your contacts before providing them as a reference to a prospective employer! You’ll not only want to confirm they are available and willing to be a reference, but you also want to ensure they are prepared. If they are caught off guard by a reference check, they may not be able to provide you with a good recommendation. Worse, if it has been some time since the two of you connected or worked together, they may not immediately remember who you are or what you do. Both of these things can be red flags to an employer, so it’s best to give any potential job references a heads up. It’s also the polite and respectful thing to do.

Provide them with context about each role they are a reference for

Once someone has agreed to be your reference, you’ll want to give them a rundown of the positions you’re interviewing for. When discussing potential job opportunities, be sure to talk about:

  • The company you’re applying to
  • What your responsibilities in this role would be
  • What skills the position calls for

Once you have given them proper context and insight, you can further discuss how you’re uniquely qualified for that role. That way, your job references will have an idea on how to best pitch you to a hiring manager once they’re called.

Stay in touch throughout the process

Don’t make the mistake of only reaching out to your job references when you need something! Similar rules to networking apply. Not only do you want to ensure you appreciate their time, but you also want to make it clear that you would reciprocate if they ever needed a professional favor. Additionally, if they agreed to be a reference, they’re likely invested in the outcome and success of your job search. Be sure to reach out during the hiring process with any relevant updates, and don’t forget to thank them for their time—job offer or not!

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