You’re thisclose to landing a new gig, and your potential boss has asked for references. You jot down a few names, assuming it’s a formality. Mistake. Those references can make or break you: Approximately two out of three employers said they have changed their mind about a candidate after speaking with a reference, according to a 2012 survey by the job-search site CareerBuilder.com. Next time, remember these guidelines.
Don’t Blindside Your References by Listing Their Names Without Telling Them
Be sure to tell anyone you might list as a reference what job you’re applying for in advance, says Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert at the job-search site Monster.com. Then make sure she wants to vouch for you. Ask, “Do you feel you can provide a strong reference for me in that role?” You want to make sure your reference is willing to say good things about you and can visualize you in this specific job. If she is unenthusiastic or voices concern about whether you’re right for the position, go to someone else.
Do Coach Your References
People are busy, so don’t assume they can recall that killer sales presentation that you did three years ago or that time you brought in two new clients in a week. Offer to help prep your reference by e-mailing details of your recent career achievements. “Make it easy by mentioning a few key skills and projects,” says Jaime Klein, the president of Inspire Human Resources, a consulting firm in New York City. The better you prepare your references, she says, the more willing they will be to help.
Don’t Assume the Employer Will Limit Its Check to the Names You Provided
Companies can call anyone you’ve ever worked with to ask about you. You have no control over what these people say, but that’s all the more reason to make sure that your own references sing your praises, says Abby Kohut, a career consultant who runs AbsolutelyAbby.com, a career-advice site. When choosing your references, think executives and direct supervisors, not cubicle mates. But don’t list bigwigs so high up the ladder that they barely remember you. You don’t want a potential boss to think that you’re forgettable.