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Which References To Include On A Job Application

March 24, 2015

Your resume is finished and you're about to start applying for jobs. The time has finally come when you need to confirm who your references will be. What references should you include on your job application that will most impress the hiring manager?

Who should you include as a reference?

This is often a difficult part of job hunting, as you want to wisely choose someone that will give you the best chance to get hired when the recruiter contacts them. You also want to choose someone that's personable. That one college professor you learned a lot from may seem like a great reference, but if you know he isn't loquacious and rarely answers his phone you may want to keep him off your resume.

Nicole from ManpowerGroup offered her thoughts on possible candidates for references, “Selecting references is a critical part of the job search success so take time to choose them wisely. Choose references that know you well and can speak knowledgeably about your professional and personal attributes. A mix of references usually work best; recent employers, a professional contact or a colleague or co-worker. Avoid using family and friends. Using a reference who is known to the hiring manager of the company you are applying to can also increase your chances of success.”

If you’ve just finished up your undergraduate or graduate degree, a professor or teacher’s assistant could be a very valuable reference. If you’ve worked summer jobs or had internships, then a recent supervisor would be a great choice. Most of the time employers will ask for multiple references. This allows you the opportunity to highlight a variety of people that could strongly speak to your strengths from different perspectives. For example, if you’re asked to provide 3 references you may want to consider filling out your references as follows:

  • A mentor/coach/leader who has known you for 5+ years and can speak to your character
  • A former coworker who can attest to how you work within a team, and give insight that a supervisor may not be able to give
  • Your current or previous supervisor who can give a detailed retelling of your work ethic, performance, and unique skills/talents you possess

This of course is not an exhaustive list, and yours may look different based on your experience thus far. However, the key is to find a group of individuals that will accurately and enthusiastically paint a portrait of who you are to a future employer.

How do you set your references to ensure they help you in the hiring process?

Many entry-level job seekers overlook an important step when it comes to references. Choosing the right references is essential; however, it's equally important to let your reference know that you've not only listed them as a reference, but also provide information around who may be calling them about you and what the job offer entails.

An expert from Gap offered her thoughts saying, “Make sure you get permission from a contact to list them as a reference before providing their name and information to an employer. Provide the contact with a summary of work you completed, what you learned, and how you contributed to their team or project. If you did not work for them in the past, provide the contact with an idea of why you are asking them to be a character reference. Describe the position you are applying for so they can attest to how elements of your character and personality will benefit the employer. Make it easy for the contact to come to bat for you. Recruiters get no value from an empty recommendation that sheds no light on who you are and what you can contribute.”

Even if you know the reference you would like to use has given you carte blanche for any and all job applications, you must give them a heads up that you will be using them as a reference for a specific job. This allows the reference to answer the phone when an unknown number may call. It will also make them keep you in mind, so when the hiring manager calls your reference isn't caught off guard and can readily speak about you.

References are a fundamental element of the application process. It can be the difference between obtaining a job and continuing your search. Utilize a diverse group of references to give your recruiter a full perspective of who you are, and be sure to give your references ample time in advance to know they might be contacted. If you follow this approach, not only will your references like helping you, but it will also improve your chance of earning employment!

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