Career Advice, Insights

What Your References Should Say About You

African American businessman on the phone

When you’re looking for a new job, you’ll most likely spend hours refining every point on your job resume, and spend even more time crafting and rewriting your cover letter, but how much time do you spend preparing your list of references? Most likely not a lot!

While it’s normal to focus on those important components, you also need to think of how your references will vouch for you when contacted about your qualities and accomplishments by a potential employer. But what exactly should your references say about you?

Give Your References a Heads-Up

First things first: before you ask your references to leave glowing reviews of you and your work, you need to let them know of your intention to list them as references. It may seem unnecessary to do so every time you’re using them, but it’s better to be safe than sorry — no one wants to be caught off guard.

Experts advise flagging your references in advance to allow them adequate preparation time. You don’t have to explain every detail of your job search, but you can refresh their memory, or give them some new updates that apply to your job search.

Your Relevant Skills & Qualities

One of the most important things that your references should emphasize is your relevant qualities and skills related to the job position. You want them to share your interpersonal and technical skills that are crucial to your position, and how you used them while you worked together.

It’s a good practice to provide your references with an updated resume, cover letter, and professional biography as well. Remind them of the projects that you managed for them that reflect those skills and qualities required in your potential new role. Supply them with sufficient details and situations that allow them to showcase your skills and reinforce your capabilities.

Your Strengths

Your references should talk about your strengths in specific situations — not just basic information. They should be ready to provide examples of actual projects where you exceeded expectations. Your reference should easily cite one or two situations that highlight your strengths.  

Remember that references are simply telling a story of you as an employee, and the best stories have demonstrative and powerful details. Strengths must be backed by specific, measurable, and tangible results. Supply your references with the necessary talking points to do that.

Your Weaknesses

Just like a job interview, employers will most likely ask your references about your weaknesses. Expect your references to discuss that in an honest way. Claiming that you’re perfect will likely not cut it with any potential employer. Everyone has weaknesses. If your references fail to cite one, it takes away you and your references’ credibility.

If your reference really knows you well, they’ll provide authentic answers, but might want to bring it out in a way that also showed how you rectified the situation. Maybe you went over budget on a poorly planned project that you took over. In this instance, your reference should talk about the progress you took to overcome those weaknesses or challenges.

Additional Tips

There are more things that references can say to employers about you. These include reasons why they should hire you, areas you could improve on, and of course your other areas of interest like hobbies. But above all, keep them in the loop of your educational and career progress so they can share an honest and credible assessment of you, your capabilities, and development.

Jordan Perez is a human resource expert with over 10 years experience helping HR managers and employees create better work relations. She’s also an avid freelance writer who has been published in online magazines and corporate websites. When she’s not engaged in HR developments, she loves hitting the road to see new places.

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