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How to Effectively Use References

It's not uncommon that a prospective employer requests you provide references. These can give insight into your character and what sort of worker you are. Are you prepared to provide 2-3 reliable references upon request? Will the people you have in mind say the right things?


In this article, we look to provide guidance on how to best chose your references.

Personal or Professional?

It's important to understand the difference between personal and professional references. Each have their own role in painting the picture of who you are as a person.


A good personal reference is one who has known you for a long time and knows you well. You want someone who can speak of the kind of person you are. When an employer calls a personal reference, they are looking to delve into your personality to know if you are a fit for their company's culture. Are you honest? How do you treat others? These are all important details that your personal references are in a good position to provide.


A professional reference, on the other hand is someone who has worked with you in a professional environment. This can be a co-worker or a manager. These references are used to give the prospective employer an idea of your work ethic as well as verify your work history is accurate. Do you carry yourself professionally? How are your customer service skills? Were there any conflicts between you and other employees? These are questions your professional references can answer.


In truth, both types are vital to employers, so you should always have at least one of each type on hand. Typically, you also want a backup to each in case the employer is having difficulty reaching one.


Choosing a Good Reference

There are several things to keep in mind when selecting your references. You want someone who knows you well and can speak confidently about their relationship with you. Obviously, you only want to select people who will speak positively of you. One point that may be overlooked is the credibility of the reference. A good friend can be a great personal reference, but if that friend seems sketchy, this can raise a red flag. Remember that who you associate with says a lot about you as a person. You want personal references who have reputable professions themselves.


For professional references, you obviously want someone who has worked with you directly a fair amount. Your direct supervisor or a co-worker who was in the same department are solid choices. On the other hand, someone with whom you were very friendly, but almost never witnessed your work directly is not helpful.


The communication skills of your references should also be considered. You want people who can communicate clearly and effectively. If the person in question is a better writer than a speaker, it may be best to use them as a written reference. This can work well with a former boss providing a letter of recommendation. Those who are better at speaking should be verbal references.


Get Approval First!

To some, this may be obvious, but you want to make sure you obtain permission before giving out people's contact information. Even if you are sure your friend would be okay with speaking with an employer about you, it's always good to let them know to be expecting a call.


Some people make the mistake of asking a co-worker or boss if they can be used as a reference when leaving a job and assuming this applies forever. Just because you were given permission once, doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out to the person in question when it becomes relevant. Each new time you begin a job hunt, you should inform your references. This way, you can ensure you still have permission, that their contact info is still correct, and set an expectation of contact. Receiving an unexpected call asking questions about someone you know can be very uncomfortable. Make sure your references are prepared so they can present you as best as possible.


In general, it's a good idea to discuss the details with each person you wish to use as a reference. Let them know about the position you are applying for, the potential employer's name that may be calling, and what skills should be emphasized. The last thing you want is an unprepared reference stumbling around and leaving a bad impression.

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