References might be a bigger deal than you think. Believe It or not, references can make or break your job prospects, so it’s extremely important to choose them wisely. Even if you had a great interview, a word from one of your references is all it could take to have the hiring manager second-guess you as the right candidate, or get the vote of confidence they need to bring you onto the team. So in a world of Amazon reviews, make sure yours are five stars!
References can make or break a job offer
Say you’re a terrible interviewer. Your resume may say all the right things, but you came off as awkward and nervous during your one-on-one with the hiring manager. He or she may have thought about moving on, but decided to call your references instead. They all had shining reviews, they were sorry to see you go, and your potential employer really couldn’t go wrong in hiring you. You were reliable, learned quickly, and got along great with the team.
After hearing this, the hiring manager decides to reconsider you as a potential candidate and decides to call you back for a second interview. Which, by the way, you nail because you’re way less nervous the second time around.
Make sure you have a really good idea of what your references will say
One key factor in picking your job references is knowing what they will say about you. Don’t think that just because you butted heads only a few times with your previous manager that they wouldn’t say anything negative about you over the phone. Be sure to only choose references that you’ve had a positive experience with and who you are sure will speak highly of you. It might even be a good idea to ask, “Can I count on you for a positive reference?”
You have more options than you think
Don’t think that the three job references you list on your resume need to be your past 3 bosses. You could have several reasons for not wanting to include your boss as one of your job references: Maybe you already included him/her and you need someone else, maybe you don’t want them to know you’re looking for a new job, or maybe you had a bad experience with them and you’re not sure they’d give the positive feedback you need to land this job. That’s ok.
Here are a few others you could think about including:
Other managers in your workplace
If you’ve been there for more than a few months, there’s a chance you’ve gotten to know some of the other “higher-ups” at your job and they may be willing to vouch for you!
Anyone who’s worked under you:
If you’re going after a job where you’ll be put in charge of other employees, having someone who’s worked under you in the past could turn out to be a great reference for a potential employer!
Coworkers can make better references than you may think. They don’t carry the stigma of being your boss, so they probably have a more realistic view of how you perform day-to-day work.
According to HBR, when providing feedback, “Managers tend to emphasize task-related behaviors (e.g., meeting deadlines, working independently) while coworkers emphasize interpersonal behaviors (e.g., friendly, compassionate, listening). This isn’t necessarily surprising, as coworkers may have more opportunities to observe interpersonal behaviors of their peers in the workplace as compared to managers.”
Past clients, volunteer supervisors, or professors
If they can speak highly of your skills and experience, think about including them! The unique point of view any of these references has is your ability to be intrinsically motivated and work hard even when you’re not forced to.
Lex Brown II of Task & Purpose says, “Listing a client as a reference can provide a potential employer with testimony of your deliverables. Whatever outcomes result from your productivity (i.e., software code, website designs, photographs, sales revenue, manufactured products, project management, etc.), clients are probably the most reputable voice for feedback.”
Be sure to prep your references
Of course, before you include a new reference on your resume, you’re going to want to make sure that they are okay with being called and speaking to your hiring manager. Once you get their permission, be sure to prep them so that they can give responses that will be relevant to the job you’re after as well as helpful to the hiring manager.
Tell them about the job
Make sure your references understand the job you’re after and why you think you would be a great fit. Mention what you would be doing in your new role and how your past experience translates, making you a great fit for the position.
Let them know about specific job requirements
Even if you don’t meet all of the job requirements, let them know about the specific job requirements or even share the job description with them. You never know, they may be able to see some transferable skills that you weren’t even aware of!
Mention key talking points and themes
If there was an overarching theme to your interview or key talking points that you think will ring in the ear of your hiring manager (like, analytical thinker, thinks like an owner, for example) be sure to bring those up to your references as they may be able to reiterate those key points on your behalf.
Include a variety
Like we said, don’t feel like you should only list your past managers as job references. In order t give your hiring manager a feel for your varied background and expertise, try to include a variety of references from different areas of your life. A reference from a volunteer project would show that you’re passionate and you care about things outside the workplace whereas as an academic reference can speak to how you go above and beyond the requirements.
That being said, we recommend staying away from personal references, (ie. friends or family members) if at all possible. The only exception would be if you’re very very new to the workforce and you’re honestly having a hard time conjuring up at least 3 professional references. If you do need in include a character or personal reference, be sure they’ve known you for an extended period of time and that they can truly speak to your character.
Who have you included in your list of references? Did any of them make or break a job offer?