March 22, 2021

Helping You Choose The Right Career!

How to Choose Your Professional References | Career Thoughts

3 min read

Choosing your references seems like an easy task, right? Ask your best work friend when you’re out noshing on BLT’s and fries at your favorite Friday lunch spot and that’s it you’re done. Surely she’s the best person to speak for you, I mean she knows you better than anyone else in Cubicleville, right? Right? Well…not always. While it might seem the easy route to take, asking our work friends to speak elegantly and profoundly about our work skills to a potential new employer isn’t always the best tactic. Read on for some helpful tips on how to choose your references.

Choose Someone Who is Familiar With Your Work

This seems like an “oh so obvious” tactic – but in reality, our work friends are very rarely the people we report to, or the ones who have a front row seat at our “Talent Showcase”. Sure, it’s easy to ask the people we feel most comfortable with, but they may not necessarily know why we’re good at what we do.

Think of someone you’ve recently worked on a project with, or had to report to on a short-term basis. They may not necessarily be someone you’d consider a “friend”, but if they would be able to speak to the quality of your work in a way you would be comfortable with, it would be best to include them.

Choose Someone Who is a Good Communicator

Again, this could go in the “Well, that’s obvious!” column, but in reality, very few of us are good at translating “corporate speak” into clear, cohesive sentences. Is this person a good communicator? Would you trust them to translate your work into the transferable skills needed in your new position? If you aren’t sure, it never hurts to ask.

You might say something along the lines of, “Mary, I really appreciate your being a reference for me. Some of the key attributes of the new position I am interviewing for are teamwork and adaptability. Are you comfortable representing those skills on my behalf? Do you feel you have enough examples to share with someone if they contact you?”

If Mary assures you that she does, great. If not, don’t be shy about talking through some examples with her, so that you’re both comfortable when the call comes.

Choose From a Range of People

Professional references don’t have to be limited solely to the people you are currently working with. In fact, it’s a good idea to include a wide range of references to an employer. This shows you are consistent in your performance, and also lets you highlight other areas you may not be focusing on in your current position.

Have you taken classes recently? Include an academic reference if you feel you know someone who can speak to your performance, either a classroom instructor or advisor. What about an old manager you still keep in contact with? Do you consider a former colleague to be a mentor of sorts? Don’t forget to include them on your list as well.

And finally…

Choose Someone Who Keeps Their Commitments

I worked with a colleague once who was an incredible mentor – he was a brilliant teacher, motivator and writer, but when it came time to return emails or phone calls, he was absolute rubbish. When thinking about choosing a reference, think about someone who is good at professional courtesy and keeps their commitments.

Make sure they are responsive and prompt in returning phone calls and emails. It is helpful, also, to let them know when they might be hearing from someone so they can prepare their thoughts and check their voicemail when they get that call from an unrecognized number!

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