Even the most expertly crafted cover letter and résumé are only a sketch. When a potential employer calls your references it brings your résumé to life, filling in the areas between the lines—for better or worse. How can you select references that will make you stand out from the crowd and clinch that job offer?
Ask first. The cardinal rule of references is always to secure permission in advance. It’s a simple step that we all know, but can get lost in the shuffle—with detrimental results. Make your request personal and clear. Don’t send a text. Pick up the phone and explain that you are exploring a possible position. You were hoping they would be willing to be a reference since they have particular knowledge of your experience, indicating why you selected them. If your job-search is not public knowledge, ask for their discretion.
Different perspectives. Your references should be people from a variety of positions—both supervisors and colleagues. Include individuals from more than one industry. If you are currently employed, it may be wise not to include a current coworker. Word can easily get out, even through an unintentional slip.
Breadth of experience. Your references should be able to speak to roles you’ve held across the phases of your career. Think about what this employer is looking for in terms of expertise. Can your references paint a full picture of your strengths and attributes?
Offer reciprocation. Being a reference for someone is a favor. Even if you don’t repay in kind to that specific person, but be known for being generous and willing to give of your time.