You have got a good cover letter and resume and you now have an interview, but what are you going to do if they ask for a reference? You need to have your references ready, and aware that you are using them as references. Selecting the right people to provide a reference for you, and then asking them to be a reference, can be a daunting task. These individuals can make or break your job prospects, so you need to put as much thought into finding and asking them as you do the rest of your job-hunting process.
The first thing is to make a list of potential references who can speak about your work skills, past performance or character. Family members might give you a glowing reference, but potential employers are looking for professional references. Your list of potential references should include prior supervisors, co-workers or even clients. Next, you should think about your relationship with each of the people on your list. How long have you known them, how familiar are they with the work you have done in the past, how long has it been since you worked with them? What specific skill or character trait can they speak about if you ask them to be a reference? Also, you will want to think about what exactly the reference will say. You will want someone articulate enough to be able to explain what work you did for/with them and how well you did it. A note to remember, you do not have to select your prior boss. You can ask anyone you worked with who had the opportunity to see how you worked. After answering these questions, narrow down your reference list to three or four names.
Next, you pick up the phone and call them, or you go see them in person. It is best not to use email to ask them to be your reference, unless you cannot help it. If you have not spoken to the person in while, start by reminding them who you are and that you worked together and when. Briefly let them know you are looking for a new job and are calling to see if they will be a reference for you. Think about phrasing this in a way that gives the person an out. You do not want someone to feel pressured into agreeing to be a reference, you might not get the reference you are hoping for. You can use phrases like "Would you be comfortable..." or "Would you have the time..." If they say no, thank them and then go to the next name on your list. But do not feel rejected, there may be a host of reasons they have declined, and it might not have anything at all to do with you. If they say yes, thank them and then give them an update on what type of job or work, and where you are in the job search process. You will want to make sure they know what your job goals are as well. This is good time to mention any specific skills you are hoping they will highlight. Let them know you will email your current resume and, if possible, a copy of the job description if you have one. Finish by confirming their current title and contact information and ask how they would prefer to be contacted for the reference. Repeat back the information to be sure you wrote it down correctly. Finally, you should send them a note to thank them for agreeing to be your reference. Handwritten is best and it could be an actual thank you card, or just a simple note.
Some potential employers will not ask for references right away. But you should always be prepared to submit them. Put your references on a single sheet of paper, with their contact information as well as brief description of your relationship. For example, "Joe and I worked together on three projects at XYZ Company." Or "Mr. Smith was my supervisor for three years at XYZ Company." And then when you do give a potential employer their names, be sure to let them know they could be called by the company. This is okay to do in an email. You can also include a copy of the job description at this time. Lastly, be sure to let them know if you get the job, they will be excited to hear that their efforts on your behalf paid off.
And if you need help preparing for an interview, you may want to download this handy Pre-Interview Guide.
We can help you rid yourself of any nerves before a big interview!