Savvy job hunters make choosing referees the second item on their job search list, right after updating their resume.
They leave nothing to chance. Having asked permission and primed their prospective referees on the types of roles they are going for, they also make sure they provide information on jobs as they come up and the key things in their background they would like the referee to highlight in relation to that role. Most importantly, they know what the referee will say about them, both their strengths and their weaknesses.
Once you have done these fundamental things here are five additional tips that can help you stand out among your competition.
1. Choose someone who has insights as to how you work
It is standard practice to provide references from former bosses and you should always do so. Former colleagues or consultants you have worked with can provide meaningful information on the value you bring to a team. They know your style and rhythms and might be able to bring a fresh perspective to your new employer, especially if you experienced shared success. People will always remember how you made them feel and that will shine through when providing a reference.
2. Relevance can trump recent references
We usually provide recent references to demonstrate our most up-to-date experience and abilities. But, there are times when an older reference might be a great additional strategy. For instance, if you are returning to an industry or worked for a direct competitor, that reassures an employer that you understand where they are coming from. It is always a bonus if you already know the 'law of the land' and this can be the detail that gets you over the line.
3. Create your body of testimonials
We are in the age of comments, ratings and endorsements and your career history is no exception. If any employees, clients or colleagues have left comments of praise about you online, be sure to provide the links to your potential employer. If you receive emails of gratitude both internally or externally, ask permission from the author to use those emails in the future and add them to your online mediums. You would be surprised how many positive emails and messages you can accumulate throughout your career. However, gentle warning, don't handover a 'textbook' of praise, that might backfire.
4. Double check your references on your social media
While we are talking about the online age of employment, be mindful of your referees appearing on your social media. You can safely assume that your potential employer will look you up on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram as well as LinkedIn.
Go back through your profiles to make sure your relationship with your referees always come across professionally. Photos of you both sharing a 'big night out' may discredit your referee from being a reliable source of information and damage your reputation. Remember, electing private settings is no guarantee that what you post is not accessible, so always be comfortable with what your online profiles say about you.
5. Choose someone impressive in their own right
If you want to be seen as an exceptional person, you would be wise to surround yourself with exceptional people. The circle of people you submit to be your referees will reflect on who you are and the type of people you will attract to a new organisation. It also speaks volumes about your judgment when it comes to reading people and their actions. Always choose people that you respect and trust to represent you, both in how they will talk about you and how they carry themselves in their professional lives. You can provide them with information about the role you are going for and ask them to relate their knowledge of you back to those points. If someone is impressive in how they deal with people, it will translate to showing a new employer the calibre of knowledge and experience you associate with.
References are there to reassure an employer that your past performance will continue throughout your career. They can be the 'slam dunk' an employer needs to be sure you are the right choice and give them the push to secure you for their organisation.
Done well, your references can be the key to a stronger negotiation and ultimately, an employment package you are happy with. Choose wisely.