Potential employers ask for references because they are looking for information about your work quality and habits. A good reference can make the difference in getting the job. Here’s how to make the most of them.
Who should you use as a reference?
Your most effective reference will come from someone who has evaluated your performance, and who may have been responsible for your day-to-day work. Most of the time, that will be your direct supervisor, but you should also consider asking your department manager. They may not have been watching you as closely as your direct supervisor, but they likely have had some responsibility and familiarity with your work performance.
Another option for a reference would be a co-worker, someone who’s worked with you on the same, or similar projects that make up your typical work. A co-worker reference should be someone who has been in your position or department. If you aren’t able to get a reference from someone in your department, find someone who can comment on the quality of your work. For instance, if you were responsible for producing training documentation, a trainer, or someone in HR who has used your work would be a great choice for a reference.
Most employers will want to see references from people you’re currently working with, or who you’ve worked within the recent past. You should be able to provide professional references from within the last five to ten years. A personal reference may say nice things about you, but unless they can comment on the quality of your professional work, he or she won’t be a particularly effective reference.
Asking for a reference
Acting as a reference for someone is a favor. It takes time to give a reference and there may be some risk since many companies ask their employees to not give employment references under any circumstances. Because of this, it’s important to make sure you ask someone for a reference before you give their name and phone number to a potential employer. Talk to the person you’d like to get a reference from before you offer their information. Don’t assume that they’re willing (or able) to act as a reference. Be sure to ask how they’d like to be contacted and when they’re available so you can make sure that your potential employer gets your reference as quickly and efficiently as possible. Let the potential employer know that you can provide references on request rather than listing the name and phone number of your references on your resume.
It's a good idea to secure more references than you think you’ll need. One of your references may be unavailable at the time they’re needed, or they may not be the best person to speak to for the job you’re being considered for. Most employers ask for three references, so if you have five (or more) references to choose from, you’ll have some breathing room.
How to prepare your references
It’s important to stay in contact with your references while you’re looking for a job. Each of your references should know that they’re going to be contacted. This is partly to make sure that they’re available and not on vacation or out of town, but it’s also a great chance to talk to your references about the position you’re being considered for, especially if the job is a step up for you. For example, if you are being interviewed for a position as a supervisor or a manager, be sure to let your references know and ask that they emphasize any experience you have as a team leader or the point person on a project.
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