Making the Most of Your References

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Because "References provided upon request" appears at the end of your resume it may seem like an afterthought. After all, potential employers only check references when they are ready to make you an offer and your past employers are expected to say good things about you. Acting cavalier toward your references is a mistake you can't afford to make. References are the final step in the selection process where you want to end on a high note without stumbling or giving people a negative impression.

For currently employed job seekers looking to land a different job or those between positions, references reflect two major issues facing those in a position to hire you. Whether you are competent and whether you will be well-suited to their business culture. Here are surefire ways to cover all the bases when it comes to gathering and presenting your references.

Knowing Who and When
The most critical part of the process is deciding who you will ask for a reference. It should be someone who is in a position to evaluate your performance, skills and work experience including your character and ability to assimilate. A good place to begin is with former employers, supervisors, managers, colleagues and clients. Discriminate to decide which of your former supervisors can best provide a reference that matches the position you are interviewing for. Further narrow it down to those who will communicate well in writing or on the phone and who are likely provide positive appraisals.

Call your references and ask permission to use them before you list them on your resume. Be sure you have their current contact information including job title and correct e-mail. E-mail them a copy of your resume to refresh their memory about you. It's essential to stay in contact with your references to let them know they may be contacted by companies you interview with. Try to avoid using current employers as references. Once a supervisor knows you are leaving the company, the odds increase that he or she will react negatively. An alternative is contacting former co-workers who are now employed elsewhere for a reference.

Cover Potential Problem Areas
Those questioning your references may want to delve into your perceived weaknesses or problem areas. Instead of ignoring this possibility, discuss it beforehand with your reference. Let them know concrete steps that you have taken to address problem areas and improve your performance. Another thing that you and your reference should be on the same page about is the reason why you left your job. Reiterate the circumstances and put your departure in as positive a light as possible in case the party questioning your reference asks for details.

The Presentation
Prospective employers expect you to bring to the interview a list of three professional references. Double check to be sure that you have a current phone number and e-mail for each one. When you list a reference, it's also helpful if you give a brief description of their professional relationship to you. In addition, letters of recommendation from former teachers, advisors and colleagues can be valuable testaments on your behalf.

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