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Who Should You Use as References?

When you’re asked to submit a collection of references and their phone numbers to a potential employer, you’ll need to think carefully about every name you add to the list. Recognize that these people will be taking on a heavy responsibility as far as your career prospects are concerned; when your potential employers call, these people should be ready to pick up the phone and put themselves in your corner. And since this may not be as easy as it sounds, you’ll want to choose references with a range of overlapping skills and character traits. Start with these five.

Choose a reference who knows you personally.

At least one of your references should be a former (or current) boss or supervisor who has had plenty of opportunities to watch you work. This person should be close with you and should know you well, but should also be able to discuss your qualities from the perspective of a manager or authority figure.

Choose a reference with higher stature.

While your immediate supervisor may have intimate familiarity with your working style, he or she may not be far away from you in terms of the company hierarchy. So you’ll also want to choose someone who holds a prominent position and speaks with a level of distinction and gravitas. The CEO, CIO, or president of your company may not know you quite as well, but her voice will carry a certain weight.

Choose an expert in your field or industry.

Consider listing a former professor, a professional mentor, or someone with an in-depth understanding of your field and a long track record of experience in this industry. If you can have a specialist vouch for you, you’ll inspire confidence when it comes to your area of expertise.

Choose someone who can think quickly and solve problems.

Most employers don’t just limit their reference checks to a series of yes or no questions. Often, employers like to ask tricky, open-ended questions that can allow them to read between the lines and gain a nuanced answer that’s more than just a blankly positive blurb. For example, make sure your reference answer a question like this: “Please name one task or responsibility that would hand off to someone else instead of this candidate.”

Choose references who enthusiastically support your career plans.

Neutral, non-committal references are often considered red flags by hiring managers, so make sure your references are ready to give you a glowing review. And of course, choose references who will go out of their way to return the manager’s calls or make themselves available for a conversation.

For more on how to choose your references and create an application that sets you apart, contact the job search experts at PSU.

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