Preparing Your References

This is the 7th post in our Women of HR series focusing on career. Read along, consider the advice and we invite you to comment with insights of your own.

After the marathon that is the job interview process, reference checks can be the last mile and where it is easy to trip up.

Once, at 6:00 p.m. on a weeknight, I received a call from a U.S. Congressman who I had called earlier as a reference for a candidate. He spoke about how the candidate was a strong and influential leader in his office and told a story about the candidate’s strengths and perseverance throughout his tenure.  While we might not all have elected officials as our references, we can help prepare them to speak as eloquently as this reference did.

Easily forgotten, the 10 minute reference call can make or break your candidacy for a position.

We pick our references, but do we prepare them? By the time you get a job offer, it may be months since you gave your old supervisor the head’s up that you were searching. Or maybe you didn’t give them any notice and they are on a sabbatical in the north of France.

The worst thing a reference can do is not respond, but a vague response is just as bad when impacting a hiring decision.

Properly preparing your references is essential to making the best impression possible. Create a document for each reference that highlights the accomplishments you made as well any awards or honors you received. Include a story of how you overcame a weakness. Use a skill set vs. a personality trait to demonstrate your professional growth.

Unlike the interview process, a reference check can include personal accomplishments and challenges that you had to overcome. The best references are individuals that you built relationships with and maintained throughout your career.

Overall, the 2-3 references you pick should be able to speak on your behalf and convey the traits that will make you an asset to any company. Providing them a point of reference will only enhance the information that they convey, and increase your chances of making the best impression possible.

Don’t we all want that?

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the author: Jessica Gross serves as the Lead Recruiter for a nonprofit staffing firm in Washington, DC where she performs full-cycle recruiting for entry level to C-level management roles. Jessica provides career counseling and job readiness assistance to individuals and nonprofits in the DC-area. Connect with Jessica on Twitter as Jessicas144 and on LinkedIn.

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1 Comment

Meredith Conder

Great post!

I would also advise the candidate give his/her references a brief summary of the job to which he/she is applying and why this job and company are great career fits.


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