Choosing correct references is vital

Friday, June 3, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 22

One element of the hiring process almost every job seeker faces is determining how and whom to select for references. With a tight job market, don’t take this lightly.

Some employers request references up front, along with your resume. Most will request references later, which also serves as a clue that you are likely at the top of their list for an available position.

In most circumstances it is better not to send references until requested.

If you have not given your references proper attention, there is a good chance you could lose the opportunity you have worked so hard to get. Realize that references are one of your marketing tools for landing the job you want.

Understanding what an employer is looking for from a reference is important. The main thing they want to know is that you are who you say you are. Did you work for the employers listed on your resume? Did you perform the functions indicated? Did you do a good job? Did you go to school where you stated? Did you graduate? Are you dependable? Do you get along with others? Can you be promoted to higher positions?

The process you go through in selecting the best references is crucial to landing the job.

Determine the types of references that interest the employer. Do they want people (supervisors or peers) from former employers, personal references, or a mix of both? List all the possible references for both categories. Go over the list and eliminate any people who may not give you a good recommendation.

Some people tend to be more negative than others. Eliminate them. Do not, however, be afraid that someone may be objective in their total evaluation. Objectivity can add credibility to a good recommendation.

Next, select the top three or four people from each group. Do all of these people have enough understanding of your abilities and accomplishments to intelligently discuss them with a hiring manager? If not, eliminate those who don’t. They may prove worthless to the employer who is asking questions and actually hinder you.

Pick the person from the remaining names -- from each category -- you think knows you the best and who will give you a good recommendation. Then pick the second best and the third.

You should now have a list of people who know you well and who will put you in a positive light.

It might be necessary in some situations to provide clients as references. A special list of these individuals can be established, as well. Use the same type of selection process

Make sure the contact information on your references is current. Double check all information.

Be aware that in some cases a present or former supervisor might only be allowed to confirm your employment dates because many employers are afraid of being sued. You need to know this before providing names. At a hiring manager’s request, you might still need to provide a name. Back this information with a list of people up with people who can actually go into detail about you.

Something often overlooked by job seekers is the need to stay in contact with potential references. Stay friendly. People are often flattered that you want them to be a reference, but you don’t want them to feel used.

When you become aware that a prospective employer will be calling a reference, make sure to inform them that the call is coming. That way they can be prepared. References may not call back if they are not sure who is calling.

So, like with every other aspect of the hiring process, preparation is extremely important. To get the job you want, take the time to pick your best references.

M.B. Owens is a Nashville-based columnist and journalist with a decade of experience writing on employment topics and business. He can be reached at