3 powerful ways to attain the best character and job reference

By Robert Half on 18 December 2018

In today’s competitive market, your job reference can be the tipping point that lands you a job offer. Learn how to get the best review.

Your resume is well-stocked with work achievements, and your interview skills finely tuned.

But in a competitive market your job reference can be the tipping point that lands you a job offer. Follow our strategy to make sure you choose the right character references.

Job reference: Consider quality

There may be plenty of people ready to sing your praises but it pays to narrow down your list of referees to those who can give a firm idea about the type of person – and employee – you are.

Think of who could best vouch for you verbally. You want someone personable and responsive, who is likely to “talk you up” to a potential employer.

Job references should ideally hold a position or have a track record that both impresses and is credible to a prospective employer – such as a company accountant if you are looking at an accounting role. After all, you want outside validation of your work from someone who relied on your professional contributions in the past.

A previous supervisor is generally a strong choice; and business associates and customers can be relevant too. If you’ve recently graduated, a mentor or lecturer from college or university could be another possibility.

If you are looking for another position while still employed, be careful about choosing current colleagues. Approach only those you can trust to keep your job search confidential.

Always ask permission

Once you’ve created a list of potential references, ask each person if they would be willing to act as a referee for you.

People who are not familiar with your work background may not feel qualified to provide a solid reference, so don’t push. The last thing you want is a reluctant reference.

Phoning a potential referee is the most straightforward approach, but emailing is an alternative if you don’t want to put the person in an awkward position. An email allows them to politely decline if they don’t feel comfortable giving a reference, or don’t have the time.

Coach them

It doesn’t hurt to give references a little guidance as to what they may want to emphasise if they are contacted.

Discuss the position you’re seeking, focusing on what makes you a good fit for it. People you know well professionally will be familiar with some of your work history, but summarise it for them, reminding them how you were an asset to previous employers. Point out anything else you think they could say to your potential employer that could boost your credibility and your chances of landing the job.

Finally, be sure to follow up and thank anyone who agrees to provide a job reference, regardless of whether you get the job.

They’ll be curious about whether you landed — and accepted — the position, and they’ll be more willing to serve as your references in the future if they know you appreciate their help.

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