By Miriam Salpeter
Job seekers preparing for the interview process often fail to look to the next stage of the job search process: references. It’s not a good idea to ignore this crucial step until the last minute, as you must rely on people you may not see regularly, and whose schedules you don’t know, to help seal a job offer. Prepare appropriate professional references in advance and save yourself a lot of aggravation when an employer requests them on short notice.
DON’T forget to prepare in advance. Identify previous employers (or your current employer, if he or she knows about your search), colleagues, clients, and others who are qualified to speak about your professional skills and accomplishments. Students who recently graduated may consider asking professors. Anyone with a significant volunteer role may wish to ask the supervisor in charge of that project to serve as a reference.
DO ask people for permission to give their names as references. Contact those people and ask if they will be able to provide a strong reference. If you’ve changed career directions, make sure to provide a brief explanation of your decision and remind the reference about the transferable skills you used when working with them that still support your goals today.
For example, if you were a teacher, and now are pursuing a management position in a retail setting, you may wish to remind your former supervisor about leadership roles you took and the fact that your classroom management skills are relevant to your targeted job.
DON’T provide a name if the reference seemed to hesitate or hedge. You have nothing to gain from trying to convince someone to serve as a reference if it could hurt more than help you. The best references are those who are enthusiastically supportive and seem happy to be asked.
DO prepare your references. Provide updated information about your work history, including your current resume and links to your online profiles, especially your LinkedIn, blog, or personal Web site if you have one.
DON’T forget to keep in touch with references to let them know to expect a call. This gives you a chance to fill them in about the company and to share details about the job description and how the interview went.
DO offer suggestions of topics they may want to emphasize when serving as a reference. You do not need to tell the reference what to say, but it is appropriate to provide details to help them to be a strong advocate. When I was applying for one of my jobs, I knew that teamwork and the willingness to pitch in when necessary were crucial for my potential employer. I emphasized how I was the perfect match in the interview. I also asked my then- supervisor (who knew about my search and was my number one reference) if she could mention some examples of my teamwork when she spoke to my potential boss, who offered me the job as soon as he spoke to her.
DON’T forget to thank your references for supporting you. Maintain strong relationships and write notes acknowledging their time and effort. Be sure to let them know if you took the job, and if not, why not.
Remember, keep your hand in every aspect of the job search to steer your career successfully.