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Selecting Professional References

After you submit your resume and cover letter, if all goes well, you’ll be contacted by your potential employers and invited in for an interview. And if the interview goes well, you’ll be called in for another and maybe even a third. If you make it this far, it means your employers are ready to start taking the next step: contacting your references to solicit outside opinions about your character and performance.

Reference checks are socially awkward and time consuming, so employers don’t usually love conducting them. But despite the general hesitance, these checks still offer volumes of useful information that can help mangers make a final hiring decision. If they’re smart, they gather their resolve and pick up the phone, and they do this somewhere close to the very end of the selection process. Will you be ready when this day comes? To prepare, you’ll need to choose your references carefully. Keep these factors in mind.

Choose people who will take the process seriously.

The weakest reference will be a person who doesn’t pick up the phone when employers call and doesn’t return the message later on. If your reference is impossible to reach, this might just mean she’s busy. But to an employer, this suggests that she doesn’t know who you are, doesn’t care about the outcome of your job search, or has nothing positive to say about you. Pick someone who will step up and jump at the chance to help you.

Choose a reference who knows you well…

You can use coworkers, peers, and even classmates as professional references if you choose; these people have worked side by side with you and can provide detail about your character and work ethic. But their opinions may not have much gravitas, since their rank in the corporate world will be similar to yours.

….OR choose a reference with high industry status and a far-reaching reputation.

You can also choose someone who may not know you as well, but whose opinion will carry more general weight. Your immediate supervisor can attest to your daily habits, which the CEO of the company can’t, especially if she only met you two or three times. But the CEO is a CEO, so other CEOs might value her glancing opinion on a different level. Ideally, you’ll want at least one person from each category.

The winning combination: Articulate, responsive, and supportive.

The best references have a strong command of the language and can be trusted to choose words that will help you shine. Avoid references who will simply shrug and mumble something like “Yeah…she was great…She always showed up on time.” These people may like you, but that doesn’t mean they can help you. You’re better off choosing a shorter list of more reliable supporters.

Offer a list of at least three references, and let these people know that you’ll be submitting their names during your search. Contact the staffing experts at PSU for more tips and guidelines.