Selecting Strong Professional References

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In the interest of due diligence, most employers ask (or require) applicants to submit a list of professional references at some point between the first stage of the process and the final delivery of a formal job offer. Some employers ask for the list upfront, as an attachment to a candidates resume and cover letter. More often, employers will ask for this list after the applicant pool has been narrowed down to a small handful of final contenders.

So when you submit your list of references—usually a series of names followed by contact information—which names should you include? Here are a few considerations that can help you decide.

Choose the Professional over the Personal

It’s better to keep family members off of your list altogether, even if you’ve held a formal working relationship with your parents. If you need to include a parent or sibling on your list, that’s fine, but look for alternatives first and place this person’s name at the bottom of the list rather than the top.

Include friends, peers and former coworkers on your list, but only choose those who can speak directly and confidently about your professional skills and accomplishments.

Balance High Status with Close Contact

If you can, choose and even mix of high profile voices and close personal working relationships. Your own supervisor may not have a very prominent role in the company, but he worked side-by-side with you for a long time and can speak in depth about your personality and work ethic. The CEO, on the other hand, may bring a weighty opinion to the matter but she may not know you as well. Make sure your list includes at least one or two names from each category.

Choose People Who Genuinely Wish You Well

It goes without saying that your list should only include people who intend to help you, not hold you back. But choose references who are both motivated AND invested in your success. If your reference views your career growth as a personal matter and she’d go to great lengths to help you move forward, her name belongs on the list. On the other hand, if your reference is too busy and distracted to accept the call when it comes, then it won’t matter if he means well.

Choose Reference You Can Trust

Employers like to ask difficult, open ended questions during reference checks, since they really want meaningful information that will help them make a difficult decision. For example, employers may ask your reference to describe an area in which you fail to excel. Answering this will require intelligence, sensitivity, and diplomacy. So if your reference doesn’t have these qualities, reconsider placing him on the list.

For more on how to choose references who can help you move your career in the right direction, reach out to the staffing and jobs search experts at CSS.

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