Your references are one of the most important aspects of your job application. Most employers will request references to prove your attitude, work ethic, and skills are right for the job. You can have a stellar resume and a flawless cover letter, but if your references are lackluster – or non-existent – you’re probably not getting the job.
How do you get great references? The answer is: start now. Here’s how.
12 Tips for Getting Great References
1. Make an effort from day one of every job experience to cultivate a strong relationship with your supervisors. Hard work speaks for itself, so if you do your best and don’t slack off you’ll likely come away with great references.
2. Listen carefully to feedback from your supervisor and make the necessary modifications of you workplace activity and behavior. Bosses will appreciate responsive employees who make an effort to overcome any weaknesses.
3. Busy managers love low maintenance employees and loathe high maintenance workers who require frequent interventions. Try to work as independently as possible but make sure your boss is well informed about important aspects of your projects.
4. Develop a personal rapport with your supervisors, in addition to a professional relationship, if they are open to it. Everything being equal, you will get more enthusiastic references from managers who like you as a person.
5. Maintain a positive persona in the workplace. Avoid criticism of any co-workers or bosses. Stay clear of gossip and office politics. Harmonizers and team players generally get the most positive recommendations. Disruptive workers, even productive ones, may receive lukewarm recommendations.
6. The highest impact references will usually come from individuals who have observed you in a productive capacity. When you’re choosing your references, opt for people who can speak concretely about your skills and accomplishments – their endorsement will be the most convincing. References who can cite examples or relate stories or anecdotes about your achievements will often have the greatest influence. For example, a vague assertion that you are a team player will not have the same effect as a specific story about how you mobilized a team to overcome obstacles to bring a key project to successful completion on time.
7. Assess the requirements for the jobs you’re applying to and make sure you select references who can verify that you possess the right assets and skills to excel in those roles. It just may be the case that you choose different references for jobs that demand different qualities.
8. Many employers are now looking for input from stakeholders other than supervisors as they conduct 360-degree reference checks. Consider including customers, business partners, collaborators from other departments, suppliers, subordinates, colleagues from professional associations and fellow volunteers in your roster of references.
9. Students and recent graduates should consider professors, coaches and club advisers as potential references in addition to employers if they have witnessed quality work on your part.
10. Make sure your potential references are going to provide highly positive recommendations. Ask them if they are comfortable providing a strong endorsement of your candidacy. In most cases, the best approach is to make this request in writing (email) so individuals don’t feel the same pressure as they would with an in-person request. You don’t want any reluctant references since their reservations may be discovered by employers during reference interviews.
11. Ask references to write general recommendations for you in advance of composing one for a specific employer, so you can determine what they will say. Requesting a recommendation for your LinkedIn profile is one way to accomplish this. Try writing a LinkedIn recommendation for your references to motivate your prospects to comply with your request.
12. Don’t take your references for granted. When making a request for a reference, always be polite and thankful. In addition, follow up with thank you notes. It’s important to keep an ongoing relationship with your references as you may need to draw on them multiple times.