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References, Do They Really Matter?
August 2011

You might be thinking to yourself that no one really looks at references, but that is where you are wrong! Having good references can be the difference between getting the job offer or getting passed up. References come in many forms, from the names you are asked to fill out on an employment application, to the people that recommend you on LinkedIn, to the manager you know who works for a company on your target list.

How do you make your references matter? Here are seven tips to make your references stand out.

  1. Don't list the names of references on your résumé. Keep your references on a separate sheet of paper that has the same heading (look and feel) of your résumé. Hold onto your references until you are asked to submit them, but be sure to keep a copy with you while you are interviewing. If you are asked, you are prepared.

  2. How many references is enough? It's better to have more references than a prospective employer would likely check. Create a pool of people you can turn to at any time depending on the opportunity. A typical job seeker should have three to four references – more senior-level professionals should provide six or seven. Make sure your reference list starts with your strongest reference at the top.

  3. Pick the right people to be your reference. Who your references are can make all the difference in your job search. You need to be strategic in your choice of people, and make sure they are people who can make strong positive recommendations. Your list of references should change for each position you apply for. Think of people who you worked with in the past and figure out who will be a good influencer with the position at hand. Some people to consider:
         - Someone who currently works at the organization you are looking to join
         - An former/current boss who can speak to your accomplishments
         - A former/current subordinate who can speak to your management skills or accomplishments
         - A former/current customer or client who can speak to your strengths and abilities

  4. Gather information on your references. Make sure you have updated information on each of your references including: full name, current employer, current title, business address and personal contact information (work phone, email, mobile, etc.)

  5. Check in with your references each time you give out their name. Many job seekers make the mistake of not checking in with their references each time they list them on an application or hand out their reference list. The biggest risk is that your reference will be caught off guard when they get the reference call.

  6. Coach your references. Pick up the phone and call your references each time you use their names. Thank them for taking time out of their busy schedule to speak on your behalf, give them a copy of your résumé, the job description and tell them about the opportunity. Refresh their memory on some of the applicable projects or achievements you had that directly relate to your relationship with them and the opportunity at hand. The more information you can provide your reference upfront, the more likely the chance you will get a glowing recommendation.

  7. Customize – no generic "to whom it may concern" letters. No one is going to read your "to whom it may concern" reference letters. Recruiters and hiring managers want to speak to individuals and communicate with them to learn your strengths, weaknesses and how you might fit into the company culture. Your LinkedIn profile is a better place for more generic, static recommendations.

Follow the tips above and unlike many other job seekers, you will have a well thought out plan surrounding your references and how to use them to your advantage. References, do they really matter? Yes!!