References: Who is speaking for you?

 You aced the job interview and they called you back to ask for references.  This is the last obstacle you have to pass before you get that job offer.  How can you make sure that you clear this hurdle?  What are employers looking for when they check references?

1.  How long has your reference known you?

In order to be credible, your reference must have known you long enough to be able to properly assess your skills.  In most cases, a year would be sufficient, but several years is better.

2.  What is your relationship to your reference?

Do not list family members or friends as your reference.  Coworkers are sometimes acceptable, but not ideal.  The best reference is a previous direct supervisor.  If they are not available, the next best reference would be another manager within the organization.

3.  Professionalism and Accessibility

Remember that your reference reflects on you.  If your reference does not communicate professionally, the employer may have doubts about your professionalism.  Be sure to choose a reference who is going to represent you well.  Further, you need a reference who will be accessible.  If the employer is not able to get in touch with your reference easily, they may give up and move on to the next candidate.

4.  Do your stories match?

The employer will want to see if there is consistency between the information that you provide and what your reference says.  Have a conversation with your reference ahead of time to make sure that you are on the same page.

5.  What isn’t being said?

Most references won’t say anything negative even if it’s true.  Therefore, managers have become experts at what isn’t being said.  They detect meaning in the messages that references don’t even realize they are sending out (pauses, tone of voice, etc.) For this reason, it is essential that you know how your reference feels about you.  Have a conversation with them.  Ask them how they feel about your ability to do the job.  Ask if they can foresee any potential challenges or weaknesses that you might have.  If you have any doubts at all about your reference, it is best that you find a new one.

Many people view the reference check as a formality, and do not realize that there are many potential deal breakers buried in this final step.  However, if you are careful about who you select as your reference, and you take the time to prepare them, you will pass through this step with ease.

(Written by: Karen Bivand)

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