HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsChoosing the right professional job referees

Choosing the right professional job referees


Guest Column: Emmanuel Zvada

When applying for a job, it is important to give a list of referees to prospective employers. Referees serve as a powerful tool as they help describe what a candidate is truly capable of accomplishing. This is why it is important for jobseekers to carefully choose their referees before applying for jobs. You may not probably realise it, but providing the right referees can actually make a difference to your job application. Your referees can have a huge impact on your career as they can make or break your chances of getting employed.

When considering who to make referees, avoid using your father, mother, brother, sister as referees as it will be considered absurd. You are to provide three to four referees, and make sure you give details like how they came to know you, their positions and how long they have known you. The vital key here is to carefully select people who are willing to support you because your referees could make or break your chances of landing a job, so you have to make sure you select the best people to speak on your behalf.

The most effective referees are those who have had the opportunity to experience your personality and witness your accomplishments firsthand. Do not feel like you need to have a former boss to serve as a referee only. You can even ask a previous co-worker or professional colleague. The reason for that is the people you have interacted closely with through professional relationships are most likely to give you an accurate reference which may make you land the job. Maintaining good referees is proof of good communication skills, and shows that you are a well-respected and likeable candidate.

Getting good references can be so daunting, and as a job candidate, you need to think carefully about who will be the best advocate for you. Prospective employees should know that future employers have high hopes that your referees will say good things about you, so they can feel confident to hire you. When selecting referees, it is easy to assume that former employers are available and willing to put in a good word for you, but that is not always the case. They can give the wrong reference summary if not told before that they are a part of your referees. So, before you ask someone to be a referee for you, here are some things to consider to make sure you get an excellent endorsement when it is time.

Always include references

When you are on the hunt for a new job, the manner in which you select and communicate with your professional job referees is critical. It is not advisable to write “references available upon request”. As a rule, always put your referees in your job application so that they can be contacted to attest to your skills or personality. Choosing from your most recent place of employment is ideal. However, this can be problematic if you do not want your current employer to know you are looking to move on. You should also know that work-related references are generally more potent than personal ones since they can attest to the way you operate and what you are capable of doing.

Build professional relationships for references

It is important to choose your referees carefully for each position. When you are building your professional relationships, listen carefully to what these people normally say about you so that you can identify which of your qualities they most admire. You want to have a good idea of what they will say about you when they get the call or when they write the letter. Among your strongest advocates, their recommendations can be highly convincing to potential employers and help you secure an offer. Additionally, they are already key members of your professional network and can even help you as you grow in your career.

Ask for permission and give referees a heads-up

Do not surprise your references or just include people’s names, especially if they are mere connections which you know. The main reason is that, maybe you do not know it would be uncomfortable for them to speak on your behalf, if they do not know you well. Never use a reference without asking for his or her permission first.

Regardless of how you perceive your relationship with the referee, not every person is comfortable giving recommendations for employment opportunities. It is advisable to get in touch with the people you would like to be your referees and politely ask them if they would be happy to give you a reference if required.

Coach your references

Tell them what position you are currently applying for, and who are the persons who are likely to call them. Brief them on what to say during their conversation with your potential employer. Also give them a copy of your resume if possible so that they can browse through it. You can even prepare them a script, so that when they are asked why you left your previous job, they can say something positive. On the same note, always give your chosen referees some background on the job you are applying for; the job title, what you will be doing and the attributes the employer is looking for.

Get accurate information from references

Make sure you ask your referees to give you their current job titles, addresses, company names, contact numbers, and the best time of the day they can be contacted. One of the things that irritates those doing the hiring or background checking is getting provided with wrong contact details. In other words, giving wrong information of referees may earn you a bad reputation, not to mention that it may cost you a good job offer.

Tailor your references

Just as you design your resume and cover letter to target different jobs, give the same level of consideration to your choice of referees. Some people might work better for different positions. For example, if a job requires the ability to manage, choose referees who can attest to your management and leadership skills. This would then mean you having a pool of referees in your network who will say only positive things about you. You should also remember that asking for referees is a key part of professional networking and that the favour goes both ways. If you ask someone for a reference, also stand ready to provide them with one should they ever need it.

Continuous referee etiquette

There is also such a thing as referee etiquette, which a lot do not practise. This is where you regularly contact your referees to update them on your career and ask if they are still happy to act as your reference.

Ensure you have their consent to do this before providing their contact details to the employer. In short you need to develop and nurture your relationships and keep your contacts up to date on what you are doing. Keep in touch with your potential referees to keep them up to date on your progress.

Most employers rely on references to determine which candidates to hire, so you really want to make sure your referees will give you the strongest possible endorsement. The best way to do that is to start cultivating good relations with your referees long before you need them such that when you do, it will be easier for you.

 Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant/international recruitment expert and author. He writes in his personal capacity.

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