The Company You Keep: How to Pick Winning References
As an interviewer, I consider one of the most important parts of any job application to be the references. Candidates will carefully curate their cover letter, résumé, and interview performance. When I call the references, I get a sense of the impact the individual has had on their colleagues and workplace. How can you select references that will improve your chances of landing the job? Here are three guidelines.
1. Understand the assignment. The number of references listed will depend on the job you’re seeking. Most applicants should include 3–4 references. Candidates applying for executive positions should include 5–7. There’s a good chance they won’t call everyone you include, so list your strongest references first
2. Consider the position. There are many individuals who could serve as a reference. Which colleagues can speak to the particular skills and experience needed for the position at hand? Be intentional and strategic in your choices.
3. Renew your connection. We all know that you should never list someone as a reference without permission. However, asking someone if they will be a reference doesn’t have to be a mere formality. It is an opportunity to express your appreciation for a colleague. Be clear about what you are asking and be genuine in your thanks if they agree.
I’ve met some HR managers who distrust references since they are not disinterested third parties. I think that it is precisely because they are not wholly detached that they are valuable. A high caliber professional will engender respect and loyalty in their colleagues. Understanding why a reference thinks highly of a candidate brings their strengths into sharper relief.