References should be a simple matter. When you get a new job offer they usually ask you for references. Sometimes it is just a formality; a company will make a couple calls and unless there is a significant problem, then there is no problem.
Other times references are a critical deciding factor that could result in preventing a job offer no matter how well you have done during the interview process. Sometimes you might have a bad reference, what happens then? So the subject of references is not so simple.
Most companies want three references. Four are also okay if you want to make a point, but any more than that is overkill and unnecessary. If you have that many, then pick the three best and use them.
There are four basic categories of references, in order of worth and usefulness:
1) Professional / Work — any work-related reference from current or former managers. These are the best choice for references that will be most helpful to you and have the greatest value to a potential employer. The only worry for most candidates is that a potential employer might call and jeopardize a candidate’s position in their current workplace before they receive an offer. The only worry for most candidates is that a potential employer might call and jeopardize a candidate’s position.So it is important when providing a current manager or co-worker as a reference to state clearly you do not want a current employment related reference to be contacted before coordinating with you directly. This is common sense and most companies understand this.
Companies can call a reference after an offer and resignation have taken place— but beware, offers are sometimes contingent on the reference being positive so a bad reference can cost you the new opportunity. If you are not confident about a particular reference, do not use it.
2) Customer / Client — past or current customers and clients. This might also include vendors and suppliers of services you have worked with. For anyone in a sales- or marketing-related role, these can potentially be as important as an employer reference.
3) Academic / Organizational / Civic / sports / military —
Academic related references from university are applicable for new college grads who might not yet have established a record of success in the professional environment. Academic references are also applicable in scientific, research or medical related opportunities.
Organizational or civic related references could range from being involved with a university-based group or committee up to and including charitable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or even politically themed and aligned groups. But these kinds of references have very little value except when applying to these same kinds of organizations or perhaps to demonstrate management / leadership skills, although measuring accomplishments in these organizations is hard to substantively validate.
Sports and team references such as team captain roles can be helpful for large corporations as they sometimes seek team player or leadership attributes. Sports related references are more useful in the US, where collegiate sports programs are common and carry more weight within academia.
Military references are useful only from the perspective of large fortune 500 companies who sometimes like military experience. They are also applicable to law enforcement and security related jobs because they can validate past teamwork, project and leadership attributes. Generally, personal references are worthless and carry no weight because anyone can ask a personal friend to say nice things.However, because such a short span of time is spent under the command of particular individuals and military members transfer often, these kinds of references are hard validate unless they are related to a very specific specialization.
4) Personal — These are the least valuable and are usually character type of references from friends, family friends and associates you might be acquainted with. Generally, personal references are worthless and carry no weight because anyone can ask a personal friend to say nice things. From my experience personal references have no value or benefit to you unless it can be directly tied to professional experience and performance.
Therefore, professional / work and customer / client references are the only truly solid and valued references. Any of the other references (excluding personal references) are only useful as additional accompanying information only and do not take the place of a solid reference.
Remember also, it is basic common sense that you should not only ask for permission to use someone as a reference beforehand to see if they are willing, but also to keep your references updated periodically, ensuring your references’ contact information is current and up-to-date. If it is more than six to nine months old then you need to update and speak with your references ensuring they continue to be willing to speak on your behalf and to ensure their contact information has not changed.
A person you provide to a potential employer as a reference is not worth very much if a possible employer calls them and when they ask about you, your reference replies by saying “who?” Stay in contact and keep your references informed and periodically updated.
More about references next week