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Why References Are Important and How to Ask for Them

In today’s job market, references are more important than ever before. Potential employers want to know your past work performance as well as your work habits from those who have seen you on a day-to-day basis. Here’s how to ensure you get the best references possible to help you land the position you really want, even when you aren’t leaving on the best terms.

Why References Rock

One of the major reasons references are so crucial to your job search success is that they substantiate your experience and provide a valid third party who will vouch for your credibility. Anyone can sound smart and professional on a resume. To ensure your work ethic matches the needs and culture of the company where you are applying, hiring managers want to talk to your current or past employers and colleagues.

Avoid “Provided Upon Request”

Rather than printing out your references, you may be tempted to save paper by putting “references provided upon request” on your resume. This is a no-no because it indicates you are hesitant to provide such information. You should always include your references when applying for a new position as it shows confidence and comfort in your previous work record.

Get Your References Right

Before you ask someone to act as a reference on your behalf, consider the context in which they know you. Will the person you are asking be able to speak to the quality of your work, the depth of your responsibilities, and the breadth of your career accomplishments?

Consider asking a wide breadth of professionals who know you to act as references. Choose people who are capable of speaking to different aspects of your abilities and skills. For example, you may ask a colleague you have worked with closely on a project, someone from a professional association who is knowledgeable of your work, and an associate with whom you worked to solve a problem in an emergency situation. You could also employ a faculty member you have worked with closely as well as an immediate supervisor with whom you meshed well.

Choose Those Who Speak Well

Though someone may have agreed to serve as one of your references, will they speak well of you, and are they able to do so? I have had people ask me to act as a reference for them when they have not performed well for me or I am unfamiliar with their work. Be sure that the people you add to your list of references can discuss your work, abilities, and personality with thoughtful confidence in a positive way to help your cause.

In addition, stay in contact with your references. Keep them apprised of your job search, what positions you are seeking, and the type of work you wish to do. This will allow them to best speak on your behalf to help you achieve your career goals.

How to Ask

The best way to ask someone to be your reference is to start with giving them information about your career search. Share with this person the type of position you’re pursuing, and tell them why you’re a good fit. Then, ask them if they’d be willing to provide a positive reference for you or a referral to someone they know who is hiring for a position that fits.

Breaking Down Barriers

In the event that you are leaving your current position on less than perfect terms, you can still get good references. In addition to direct supervisors, co-workers and colleagues can also speak to your experience. References don’t always have to come from the company human resources department or your supervisor.

How Many Do You Need?

The average job seeker should have three to four solid references on their resume. I advise my clients seeking senior positions to consider listing more references with five to seven. Always list your strongest reference first as potential employers are most likely to start checking references at the top of your list.

References Bolster You

Not only can great references bolster your ability to get the position you want, but they can help you feel better about yourself, promoting a winning attitude. In addition, by asking a past employer, supervisor, or colleague for a reference, you are helping to maintain a positive and trusting relationship with them.

I believe you deserve a career that brings you joy, fulfillment, and the ability to live your best life. If you’re having a hard time writing your resume or your current resume isn’t generating the response you’d hoped it would, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website for help now.

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Jessica Holbrook Hernandez

A nationally recognized resume expert, Jessica Holbrook Hernandez is President/CEO of Great Resumes Fast and a former human resources manager and recruiter. Leveraging more than ten years’ experience directing hiring practices for Fortune 500 companies, Jessica's innovative and brand-driven resume development strategies have secured a 99.6% interview-winning success rate for her clients. As a global resume authority and trusted media source, Jessica has been featured and quoted numerous times throughout CNN.com, The Chicago Tribune, Monster.com, Local Job Network Radio, International Business Times, and more.
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