A Guide to Getting Employment References

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At some point during your job search, a potential employer will request references. Typically, it will be when the company is seriously interested in you as a potential hire. It’s important to be prepared to provide a list of employment references who can attest to the skills and qualifications that you have for the job you are applying for.

Plan ahead and get your references in order, before you need them. It will save time scrambling to put together a list at the last minute. Keep in mind that good references can help you clinch a job offer, so, be sure to have a strong list of references who are willing to attest to your capabilities.

How to Ask for a Reference

Do not use someone for a reference unless you have their permission. You need to be sure that you are asking the appropriate people to write a letter of reference or to give you a verbal reference. You also need to know what the reference giver is going to say about you. The best way to approach this is to ask the reference writer if they would mind if you used them as a reference. Then review the type of positions you are applying for with the reference giver, so they can tailor their reference to fit your circumstances.

Who to Ask for a Reference

Former bosses, co-workers, customers, vendors, and colleagues all make good professional references. So do college professors. If you’re just starting out in the workforce, or if you haven’t worked in a while, you can use character or personal references from people who know your skills and attributes.

Company Reference Policy

Be aware that some employers will not provide references. Due to concerns about litigation, they will only provide job title, dates of employment, and salary history. If that’s the case, be creative and try to find alternative reference writers who are willing to speak to your qualifications.

Make a Reference List

Create a document listing your references. The list of references should not be included in your resume. Rather, create a separate reference list on the same paper you used for your resume. Have it ready to give to employers when you interview. Include three or four references, along with their job title, employer, and contact information. If the employer asks you to email your references, paste the list into the body of any email letter, rather than sending an attachment.

Once you’ve made your reference list, check it twice. I know someone who had a typo in the phone number of the top reference on her list. Needless to say, the employer couldn’t reach the contact.

Paper vs. Personal References

Many employers won’t be interested in paper reference letters, though I still think it’s a good idea to have some, especially if you’re graduating from college, relocating, or the company you work for is going out of business. Instead, they will want to speak to your references so they can ask specific questions about your background to find out what type of employee you were and why you might be qualified for the job they are hiring for.

Request a Reference Letter

Every time you change employment, make a point of asking for a reference from your supervisor or a co-worker. That way, you can create a file of recommendations from people you may not necessarily be able to track down years later.

Keep Your References Up-to-Date

Let your references know where your job search stands. Tell them who might be calling for a reference. When you get a new job, don’t forget to send a thank you note to those who provided you with a reference.

Maintain your Network

Maintaining your reference network with periodic phone calls or notes to get and give updates is important. LinkedIn is an ideal way to keep your network up-to-date online. Have an active network in place because you never know when you might need it.

Requesting Permission

A prospective employer should ask your permission before contacting your references. This is especially important if you are employed – you don’t want to surprise your current employer with a phone call checking your references. It’s perfectly acceptable to say that you are not comfortable with your current employer being contacted at the present time. However, do have a list of alternative references available.

[Source: article by Alison Doyle]