You may be effective at "selling" yourself to an employer, but have you lined up former bosses and ex-colleagues who can back up what you have to sell?
That's why you need references. Employers want to be sure they're hiring the right person before they make a big investment that will cost thousands of dollars in pay and benefits.
Think about it for a minute: When you want to make a major purchase, you probably do some research and look for reviews from satisfied customers before you decide. But finding reviews on potential new hires is not that easy for an employer.
The question is: How do you get people to be your references? Here are three ways:
- Just ask. Before you start your job search, think of three to six people with whom you worked closely and who saw you at your best. Contact them, tell them you're looking, and ask them if you can offer their names and contact information as references. If they say they're happy to do it, (you don't want them to agree grudgingly; that's how negative references happen), let them know the type of position you're seeking and the skills and qualifications you'll be "selling" as part of your search strategy. You want someone who remembers how you used those skills and qualifications and would feel comfortable discussing them with the person who wants to hire you.
- Get it in writing. This can be more valuable than just a name, title, and contact information. If you can present the hiring manager with a letter from one of your references about their experiences working with you, it will likely be read before the hiring manager calls the reference to learn more about you (or the letter can take the place of the typical reference call). If you're a new college graduate without experience in your chosen field, having one or two letters from professors can help.
- Look to LinkedIn. Bank on the fact that the employer will go beyond your references and scour the web for more information (good or bad) about you. If you have a LinkedIn profile (and you should), you have a golden opportunity to get current and former colleagues to write and post recommendations to your profile. As LinkedIn gains more value as an online networking site for professionals, recommendations make your profile more valuable. (Jason Alba of JibberJobber.com offers helpful advice on this topic.) Just remember that you should also be giving recommendations for others since reciprocation is important when you're networking.
One more important tip: Give your references a heads-up once you have an interview lined up. You should also tell them about the job, the company, the aspects of the job the hiring manager may address, and how your experience fits the job. You may not know how well you stand with the hiring manager until a second interview, but being prepared at the first interview with a list of references who can be called right away will demonstrate how prepared you are.
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