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In this tough environment when the economy is in great recession laying off employees by the companies has become a daily routine. Each day every other company from different sectors is either sending their employees on unpaid leave or firing them altogether.

Even those companies who are hiring new recruits are hiring very few and that too after due diligence. In these tough times when there are no profits for companies, they want to get the most bang for their buck.

Therefore, companies want to hire someone who is not only experienced and veteran in his/her field but also well known in the industry. Someone who can be testified by HRs and managers of other competitive companies.

Unfortunately, only such candidates are successful in finding jobs these days.

I know you might get a bit disappointed after reading this.

But don’t worry about the very purpose of writing this article is to prepare you for the challenge.

You too can get a job in these tough times if you have a thing called “References”.

Hence in this article, you will learn what are references, why it matters, how you can get them, and eventually find a career you love so dearly.    

So let us get started.

The Basics About Job References

a) What are Job References?

Job references or employment references can be a company, people like human Resource Managers, colleagues, and supervisors who can testify your skills and qualification for a particular job.  

Potential employers contact them to ask questions about you in great detail. Hence you got to plan ahead and get the right kind of references for yourself.

Certain employers can also ask you to get a reference letter (or a letter of recommendation) written by your reference.

You got to know what the employer wants from your references beforehand.  

b) How to Choose and Use Best References? 

Once you started applying for jobs, you will require a list of references at your disposal. Usually, companies ask for 3 to 4 references. These references must be perfect and people who swear by your skills and competence necessary for the job you are applying.

You have to ensure that you only ask people who would be willing to give a positive reference. Whether they are former employers, colleagues, or supervisors, they must be on very good terms with you when you left the company/organization. More on this later!

c) How to Ask for a Reference?

Asking for a reference is the only way to ensure that you only get positive and most appropriate references for the job you are applying to. Hence you have to ask someone who is willing to do so.

You will tell them what all you want them to include in the reference letter. For example, you want them to write a recommendation letter then furnish them with all the information like what to include, where and when to send it.

You also need to inform your references about the job you are applying for, so they get an idea of what skills and abilities they need to mention that matches your job description.  More on this later! 

d) Types of Reference Letters

Reference letters or recommendation letters shouldn’t be too generic. You need reference letters that exactly matches your job profile. For example, if you are applying for a teaching job then you better produce an academic recommendation letter to your employers.

You can categorize reference letters in 4 broader categories.

  1. Academic Reference letters.
  2. Employment Reference Letters.
  3. Personal Reference Letters.
  4. Sample Reference Letters. 

Choose a type according to the nature of your job.  

e) When to Use Professional References

A professional reference is a recommendation from a person like a former employer, a colleague, a client, an HR who can vouch for your competence and skills for a particular job. It can be used in recommending experienced skilled candidates for a job position in a private company or a public service enterprise.  

But it can also be used for referencing young college graduates just fresh off the boat with limited or no work experience. Here a professor or college administrator could be used as a professional reference.  

Job Search

Do Employers Check References?

i) When Employers Check References

Gone are the days when employers thought references are not that important and use to ignore employee’s references.

Today more than 90% of employers conduct background checks on new recruits normally during pre-employment screening sessions. They even repeat checks on an annual basis and also when an employee is promoted.

Usually, an employer can ask for references in job postings. They might ask you to post a list of 3-4 professional references with their email addresses and telephone numbers. Just follow the instructions while job posting.

If references are not being asked by the employer then don’t include the list on your resume rather create a separate list.

Employers while checking references usually look for information like reference’s name, job description, company, phone no, address, etc.  

ii) Who do They Check References With?

As I said earlier on an average employer is going to check at least 3 references given by you. You better provide the reference details to employers even before they ask you.

People that your employer is going to cross-check with are your current supervisor or the boss you work under. If you haven’t mentioned your supervisor/boss then they may check with the HR manager.

They would also like to check with other business acquaintances and clients who may know you.  

Usually, they cross-check with people you mentioned on the reference list. But sometimes employers are willing to go one step further and cross-check with customers, vendors, and even your colleagues.

iii) What Your References Will Be Asked?

Perhaps this is the most critical part of getting a job with the help of references.

What your prospective employers would like to know about you?

Well, Everything! First of all, they will obviously seek to learn whether you are competent enough for the position you’ve applied for? About your general character? How dependable were you for your former employer? What your colleagues have to say about you? Your loyalty towards the company? They would like to learn everything about you.

They are going to ask all of this from the people you mentioned in your reference list.

If your employers got the satisfactory answers from your references then you are selected otherwise you got to try somewhere else.

Therefore, a lot is going to depend upon how well you choose your references and train them what they have to say. Learn more about this in the next segment!   

iv) How Employers Ask for a Reference

Normally employers are going to ask for references in job postings.

For example, a job posting may read:

  • Your Cover Letter.
  • Resume.
  • List of 3-4 References.

This is the template used for asking references.

Sometimes they can also ask you directly when you are being interviewed.

We will also talk about listing references on your resume in great detail later in this article.

Job Search

Where to Get Best References for Your Job

Perhaps this is where you have to focus on!

a) Finding Good References First

As I said earlier anybody like supervisors, managers, bosses, clients, colleagues, friends, and even family members can become a reference. However, are they going to provide an impactful reference for you?

The answer is no, not everyone can become a good reference.

A good reference is people who have true knowledge of your skills and capabilities. Moreover, the referrer himself/herself must have a good reputation and character that can sway the mind of your employer.  

In other words, a person must be perceived as a genuine and credible reference. And if you find one such ideal reference then he/she must be willing to offer a favorable commentary on your skills and competency.

You got to find such references.

b) Who to Use as a Reference?

We have already talked about this so there is no need to elaborate on this. But I’m going to mention the 5 best professional references you should try to get.

  1. Former Employer/Managers  Former company where you worked. They know your work ethic.
  2. Colleague  Someone you worked alongside and is not a boss. Give a favorable opinion on your teamwork skills.
  3. Teacher/Professor  Who taught you in college and can give a positive commentary on your personal character.  
  4. Advisor  An academic advisor as a reference can talk about how you have grown into a professional over the years.
  5. Supervisor  Someone who supervised you but wasn’t your boss. He/she can elaborate on your other personality traits like integrity, passion for something, etc.

 If you are short on finding professional references because of limited work history then you can also use friends and family members as a personal reference.

c) Contact the Reference

Now you have chosen your references you got to make a call and inform them that you are looking for a job and you would like to use them as a reference.

Just talking on the phone is not enough you got to fix a date and meet your reference in person. You are going to share your resume with them and let them know the job you are applying for. And also tell them the kind of skills your prospective employer is seeking.

During the meeting give them an impression of how serious the reference is for obtaining the job. Inform the referrer very early on so they have ample time to prepare.  

d) Verify your Personal Information

Verifying your personal information is going to avoid any potential confusion down the road when your employer contacts your mentioned references.

You are going to check with the human resource department of all the companies where you worked and held a position with them. You are also going to talk with other people like managers and ex-boss to confirm that all information (like skill sets, responsibilities you performed, etc) mentioned in your resume is accurate.  

There shouldn’t be any confusion. Clarify all the doubts and straightened things out with your former employers.

e) Discuss Beforehand What References are Going to Say About You

This paragraph is the gist of the whole article.

You have to know what exactly your references are going to say to your employers. And mark my words if they are not going to offer a favorable commentary then you got to dump that reference, you don’t need them.

Actually, to be honest you got to guide your references for comments they are going to make.

Start with reminding the reference about your past responsibilities and the successes you achieved with them.

Discuss with each reference what they are going to say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weakness.

Best references should be able to speak about your skills, work ethic, achievements by giving concrete real-life examples.

If possible, you can also ask references to write recommendations in advance so you have an idea of how they are going to represent you.

References who are going to take time to prepare and make specific recommendations about you are the best ones.

The last thing you need is negative references, so you have to ensure how your references are going to endorse you.

Always try to learn beforehand what your references are going to say about you if it is less than favorable then drop them.

If you don’t know your reference much and haven’t met him/her then at least make sure that he/she verbally agrees to make positive recommendations.

Keep your references informed each and every time you apply for a job and give out their contact information to your potential employers.  

How to List References on Your Resume

Here are the following precautions who need to take while listing references on resume.

i) Choose the Most Appropriate References that Suits Your Job

Match each one of your references to your job description. Ask yourself which of your references can offer the most compelling recommendations for the kind of job you are applying.

For example, if you are applying for a marketing post then it is better to choose a reference with a marketing background.

Similarly, if you are looking for management jobs then seek references with a management background.

That’s it.  

ii) Maintain Separate List of References

Always maintain a separate list of references for confidential job searches.

If you are already employed and not satisfied with your current employer then you would like to search for work somewhere else. But you have to keep this a secret from your current employer.

So it is unwise to ask any of your current employers and colleagues for references.

Hence maintain a separate list of references.

iii) When Not to Include References

If a job posting on a website doesn’t request references then don’t list them on your resume. Now a day including references is considered to be an old practice.

Today it has become more common for companies to not provide references to avoid legal lawsuits. Therefore, employers don’t expect applicants to provide references.  

Don’t include references unless it is asked categorically.

I am pretty sure if you follow and implement all the points mentioned in this article then you can definitely find a career you love and won’t follow the wrong career path with the help of references.

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