Choosing and Using References in your Job Search

An important part of any job search is having references who can attest to your being a good employee.  As you begin your job search, take some time to consider which former coworkers will provide you with the most positive references possible.  Most potential employers will want to talk to your former supervisors.  However, you may know that a former supervisor loves gossiping about others or rarely has a kind word to say about anyone.  In that scenario, it may be better to use a former coworker who’s very familiar with your work and who will discuss you more fairly with a future employer.

Another potentially awkward scenario is using references from jobs you held too far in the past.  If you’ve been at the same company for the last ten years, it is more appropriate to use coworkers and associates from your current employer than to use a supervisor you haven’t worked for in more than ten years.  Perhaps your current position reports to an IT manager but interfaces often with the CFO.  In this situation, the CFO can also attest to your being a team player, having a good work ethic, and having added value to your department.

People who know you from performing significant volunteer responsibilities can also provide excellent references.  For instance, if you publish the newsletter for your local PTA, the school principal may be more familiar with your writing skills than a former manager you had in a sales position.  Using volunteer references is also helpful when you’ve been in your current position for only a short time—and especially if you’ve held your volunteer commitments for many years.  A brief work history won’t count as much against you if you can offset it by demonstrating stability and long-term commitment in other places.

Once you’ve chosen the best people to provide your references, it is essential to keep those people informed of your job search.  Someone who has recently spoken with you will reflect their positive memory of that contact when talking with a potential employer.  Most importantly, you don’t want to place a reference in the position of being reprimanded for discussing your qualifications during company time.  Nor do you want them to be caught off guard simply because they were unaware that you are still actively searching for a job.

Most of the time, your references will know only about your duties that directly interacted with their own.  It’s a good idea to send a copy of your resume to your references so they’re aware of all the responsibilities of your current (or previous) position.  It also provides your references with a framework for the overall path of your career, allowing them to speak more intelligently about you when a potential employer calls.

When it comes to references, choose carefully, stay in touch, and provide them with updated information.  As long as they know what to expect, your references will be glad to help you out!

Jessica Holbrook Hernandez is an expert resume writer, career and personal branding strategist, author, speaker and President/CEO of Great Resumes Fast. She creates high-impact, best-in-class, resumes and cover letters that transform job searches into interviews and ultimately job offers. For more information about professional resume writing or to read more career and job search related articles visit http://www.greatresumesfast.com or call 1.800.991.5187.