Purveyor of High-Quality Verbiage

Lisa Vaas is a journalist who analyzes technology and job-hunting strategies.

How to Choose Your Job References

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How do you pick the directors, coworkers and direct reports who will be your job references? And once you’ve picked them, how and when do you put them in front of a recruiting professional?

For a condensed version of the story I wrote for The Ladders, click here.

For the complete story, read on:

According to professional resume writer Mary Schumacher, who works with The Ladders, the first thing job searchers should realize is they need to cut one particularly stale phrase out of their resumes when it comes to reference lists.

“For the kind of job searcher that the Ladders attracts, a resume would not have any statement like ‛References available upon request,’” Schumacher says. “In fact, I don’t think any resume needs this kind of statement. It’s a cliche and not necessary to include.”

Here’s more input from professional resume writers on how to present references:

Reference document blueprint

    • File Format: Should be in a separate Word document.
    • Title: “Professional References” or simply “References.”
    • Reference Information: The list should include at least three references, preferably from your most recent employers. Include name, title, name of company, address, e-mail, phone (or just e-mail and phone). Make sure contact information is current.
    • Branding Consistency: Resume writers recommend taking a cover letter and saving it as a new document titled “(Your Name) References” or something similarly descriptive.
      Next, highlight and type over everything but the header, which contains the name and contact information, suggests Stephen Van Vreede, a certified professional resume writer who works with The Ladders. “This way, a job seeker will have a consistent, branded framework for their resume, cover letter, and references, giving them a more professional appearance,” he says.
    • Print It Out: Several copies of the reference list (in case the candidate is interviewed by multiple people) should be printed out on high-quality, ivory or white resume paper and taken to an interview, Van Vreede says.
    • Post It: Schumacher notes that many people have references right on their LinkedIn profiles, as quotes from bosses or customers. LinkedIn makes it easy to request recommendations by simply e-mailing those in your network; just click on Recommendations in LinkedIn’s left-hand menu.
    • When to Submit: During the interview phase.
    • Submission Exceptions: Submit prior to interviews if you’re in a field where it’s required, such as education.

    Who to include and how to approach them
    Schumacher says the best references are from a former employer organization and should be a former boss, co-worker, or somebody whom you’ve supervised. Others to consider including are vendors, customers or those you’ve worked with at a volunteer organization. Make sure to only include references who understand why you left the company and who will say good things about you, your leadership, and your performance, Schumacher says.

    Before including a reference on a referral list, ask them in advance to be a verbal reference (as opposed to writing a reference letter), Schumacher says. Bear in mind that “some companies or organizations have policies against saying a lot about a former employee except for dates of employment, salary, etc.,” she says.

    In today’s rough economy, many companies have gone under or have merged/been acquired, Schumacher notes. In such a case, it’s “difficult to to track down a former boss or co-worker, especially as people move around.” Thus, she suggests asking for a letter of reference from someone in the company once everyone knows you’re leaving so that you’ll have a written record in case you can’t track the person down years later. “The letters don’t carry as much credibility as a telephone conversation, but it’s better than nothing if you can’t find a person,” she says.

    If a prospective employer requests your references, make sure to give them a heads-up that someone might call and coach them on items to highlight from your past work, Schumacher says. Just as important: make sure to thank them for their efforts on your behalf.

    How to stand out from the competition
    Dan Dorotik, another certified resume writer who works with The Ladders, formats his clients’ reference summaries by including two columns. In the left column, he lists the standard information as outlined above in “Reference Information.” In a right-hand column, he then gives one-to-two sentence descriptions of the relationship between the job seeker and the reference, including information the reference can verify about the candidate.

    Alternatively, Dorotik lists in the right column a “testimonial” from the reference, which he said can be an excerpt from a letter of recommendation, an e-mail or another source.

    “This presentation of references is much more effective, as it provides further insight into the candidate-reference relationship,” Dorotik says. “Many job seekers do not use this type of reference summary, so those who do position themselves above the competition.”


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