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Putting Your Best Foot Forward: 5 Guidelines for Job References - Guest Blog

Phone_interviewOriginally by: Ray Blush, managing partner of OI Partners - Hugh Anderson Associates

Recently, I was talking to a Vice President of Human Resources who works for a medium-size manufacturing company in Ann Arbor. The executive indicated their organization always checks two to three business references and sometimes one to two personal references as part of their decision-making process in hiring a person. This company and others check business references for several reasons including verifying past employment, confirming whether or not the person would be eligible for rehire and inquiring about previous job performance.

When a company representative speaks with references who are not previous employers, questions typically focus on work habits and personality attributes. The thinking process behind checking references is to get a third party’s impression of an applicant as well as verifying accuracy of the information provided during the application process.

In this job economy, putting together a list of references is just as important as writing a robust resume. Having positive references will differentiate you from everyone else. When former employers and others who have direct knowledge of your skills, abilities and personality are willing to provide recommendations to prospective employers, their comments can make the difference between getting the job offer or not being considered for employment.

So, here are five job-reference guidelines that will put your best foot forward with employers:

1. How many references do you give employers? Typically employers want three to six references including former supervisors, co-workers and people you have supervised if you are applying for leadership/supervisory positions. If, in your previous positions, you worked with suppliers or customers, you may want to include them in your list.

2. Contact your references. Send an email, make a call, or visit with them in person to inform them you are seeking new employment and you would like to use them as a reference. Make sure you send them a copy of your current resume, the types of positions you are seeking, and your geographic preference to work. Ask your references what they are going to say to prospective employers because you want to know if they will be giving you a favorable commentary.

3. Develop a document that lists your references. Create your reference list with the same heading that you are using on your resume; use reference names with job titles/company names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses; and a sentence or two below the contact information explaining the relationship between you and your reference.

4. Periodically update your references on your job search activities. Provide your references with ample notification every time you know a company representative will be contacting them. In other words "keep them in the loop" so they have an ongoing update about your job-search activities.

5. Inform your references about your new position. Call or email your references informing them of your new position before you start. A few weeks after you are employed, thank them again for their support in a form of a thank-you letter with a $10 gift card from a local coffee shop, Panera Bread, Starbucks or Amazon.

One final note: If you are really unsure of what your references will say about you, ask a head hunter or a job reference company (for a fee) to contact each of your references and report back to you what they have said about you.

What’s been your experience with references? What other suggestions do you have for putting your best foot forward with your references? I’d love to hear what has worked well—and also, what hasn’t.

Ray Blush has been managing partner of OI Partners - Hugh Anderson Associates in Ann Arbor, MI for 17 years. His prior background includes 25 years of top corporate, divisional, and plant-level general management and human resources experience in high-tech medical devices, machine tool and cutting tool industries. He holds an M.B.A. in Industrial Relations from the University of Detroit, and a B.A. from Xavier University. He holds a Certificate in Tool & Die from Macomb County Community College and has taught Small Business Management Continuing Education courses. He has served in leadership roles in several community service organizations. He can be reached at rblush@oipartners.net.