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References- let's give them something to talk about...

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reference-check.jpgHave you started your job search?  If so, you'll want to start thinking about your references.  Who are the people who can best attest to your skills, experience, knowledge and personal strengths? Be sure that your references can speak to all the qualities that your potential employer is looking for in a new hire.  

Possible references include supervisors and colleagues from former jobs, internships and volunteer work, as well as professors and coaches.  While it's time to compile this list of references, you won't provide this information to employers unless specifically requested to do so.  Most employers ask for references during the interview process if you are a finalist for a position.
 
The way employers check references for potential hires has changed over the years.  Once, letters of recommendation were the requested norm; now, with the exception of certain industries like Education, employers usually ask for a list of references and their contact information. 

Some employers will call your references and personally ask a series of questions to determine your abilities, motivation and personal "fit" for a position.  Others, especially larger organizations, have opted for an automated approach, and use customized software to ask these same questions about how you match with the success factors for the job.  In the latter, your references are emailed a link to a comprehensive survey with multiple choice questions customized for that particular position/organization.   References are asked to rank you on a scale of low to high in such areas as professional competence, interpersonal and problem solving skills, and adaptability.  Just like in telephone inquiries, there are opened ended questions as well.  These typically include questions about your strengths and an area in which you could improve.   References are also usually asked, "Would you hire or work with this person again?"
 
Now that you know the process, how can you best manage your references?
Follow these three steps:
1. Ask
     Always ask your contacts if they are willing to provide you with a good a reference.   If a contact expresses any reservations at all, politely express your understanding of the situation, and then ask someone else.

2. Prepare
     Prepare your references in advance.   Offer to provide any information they might find helpful in fulfilling this role.  Send an email to thank them for agreeing to be a reference and let them know the type of positions and organizations you are targeting in your job search.  Explain why you're interested in pursuing these opportunities and the strengths and experience you have that make you a good candidate.   Attach a copy of your resume for their information.

Some references, especially instructors who are asked to write references by many students, may ask you to complete a form or provide other information that can help them in their reference role.  Respond promptly if you are asked to do this.

3. Keep in Touch
     Keep your references informed of your job search progress.  Let them know immediately if an employer has asked you for your references, and provide information about the job and organization where you're now a serious candidate.

If your area of interest changes, let your references know.  If a reference is prepared to extol your enthusiasm for pediatric nursing, she may be caught unaware by a reference request for position working with substance abuse patients.

Be sure to let your references know when you do land a position and thank them for their help.

     For more information about references, check out the CEC's References: Guides and Format.
About.com also has some helpful information about references as well. 

 

Photo compliments of culprit.com