Every job seeker needs to have a good list of references, but not all references are equal in the eyes of hiring managers. I’d like to talk a bit about the type of references that hiring managers like to get to and what you should do to prepare your references for that inevitable call.
First of all, keep in mind that your references should be professional references, not personal references. Hiring managers want to talk to people who’ve worked with you and can comment on your abilities and experience. Friends, relatives and neighbors should not be given as references unless specifically requested by the employer, which is very rare.
As a rule, the higher the job title of your reference, the more valuable they are considered to be by hiring managers. Feedback from high level managers who know you and your work is particularly valuable, so past bosses make the best references. The Holy Grail of references is a former boss that is now a manager at the company for which you’re interviewing. I really sit up and take notice when one of the references for a candidate turns out to be another manager in my organization.
If you can’t get a former manager/supervisor as a reference, the next best thing is a former customer from your previous job, or former co-worker (again, the higher the position of the co-worker, the better).
Once you’ve chosen your references, you need to prepare them, which is something not all candidates do. For example, I was recently checking references for a candidate I was considering. When I told this person I was calling for a reference check, he seemed surprised to hear this person was looking for a job.
One of the basic rules when developing your references is to make sure they are prepared. Regardless of who your references are or how many you have, you should call them and get their permission in advance to use them as a reference. Let them know you are looking for a new job. Then, let them know every time you get to the point in applying for a job where you’re asked for references so they’ll know to expect a call.
It’s important for your references to know not only that you’re being considered but also the name of the company to which you’ve applied. They can then be prepared and perhaps even tailor their comments to that particular company. The more information you give your references, the better they can be as a reference. Usually, by the time you’re asked for references you’ll have been through one or more interviews and know the type of experience the company is looking for. Pass as much of this type of information as possible to your references and they will be much better prepared to give high quality and relevant comments about you.
An excellent reference can be the difference between getting and not getting a job offer, so always treat your references like the valuable assets they are.