When employers ask you for references, it’s the moment that could make or break your chances for a job. Especially if you choose a reference who gives you a lukewarm review.
The first thing to know is that employers prefer to speak directly to a person rather than read a letter that glows brighter than neon lights. Employers know that all reference letters are filled with praise—and they want to fish for some negatives in a direct conversation. Few past employers are going to talk about your shortcomings in a letter that they know you’ll read.
If you have a reference letter already in hand, know that a potential employer will probably want to speak to that person as well. But don’t pass on a reference letter or phone number if you don’t think that reference will have a lot to say.
When it comes to references, employers don’t just want to hear “She was a hard worker.” They want details about your most significant skills, specific projects you worked on, and how you interacted with people at all levels. This amount of detail can only come from someone who knows you well—not the big boss who might vaguely remember you name.
In the references game it’s better to focus on the B players. The managers you directly reported to will know more about your day-to-day performance. You want potential employers to talk to references who are real cheerleaders for you and will do their best to illustrate why all your positives far outweigh any negatives. Choose references who will be sincere and honest—but definitely in your fan club.
And before you give out any names, be sure to ask your references if they mind being called. Don’t just ask that simple question: seize the opportunity to talk about the job that you’re interviewing for and how it will use your skills. That conversation will be a good refresher for your reference—and a guarantee that when they talk about you, they’ll never be at a loss for words.
- Make sure all your references know you well.
- Ask people if they’re willing to be a reference for you before you give out contact information.
- Tell your references about the job you’re interested in and how your skills will be used–so that they too can sell your fit.
- Don’t assume that reference letters carry greater weight.
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