he resume is not the proper format in which to present references. References rarely come into play prior to the interview phase of the hiring process. References are usually not requested until the employer has determined you to be the top choice or at the very least a top finalist. Jumping the gun can violate the privacy of your references by providing contact information to any number of people who may happen to have access to the resume.

It is never too early, however, to have your references lined up and ready to go. Make a list of the ones you believe will provide the most positive accounts of your strengths across your entire skill range. This is especially important for those applying for a variety of positions requiring multiple and diverse skills. Having several references enables you to select the ones most appropriate to specific positions.

It is a good practice to ask these individuals if they are willing to serve as references. You will rarely be turned down, but it is proper to ask. These people, in effect, are doing you a favor and should be treated accordingly. No one is ever obligated to be your reference.

It is also a good idea to discuss with them the nature of their testimonials. Some folks have been surprised by the lukewarm responses from people from whom they were expecting powerful statements. Also, make sure they understand the types of positions for which you are applying so they can tailor their statements. It often pays to suggest the specific skills, achievements, and results you would like them to cover. This is a good strategy to use with both recent and previous employers. It gives them a script to work from when the reference check actually comes. Don’t focus only on your favorite past employers. Most bosses, even those you might not have had great relationships with, will be glad to help when asked. If not, they will usually be up front about it so you can move along to more fertile ground.

Notify your references any time you suspect they are going to be called. You can use the brief conversation to tell the person about the position, why you would be perfect, and any points you would particularly like covered.

Some job seekers include the statement “Personal and Professional References Available Upon Request” on the resume. This is unnecessary because every employer knows you will supply references.

Although not every employer checks references, assume that each will. Don’t skimp in amassing your reference A-team. Strong statements on your behalf can be a powerful force in the hiring decision. Glowing recommendations from a solid group of references can also mitigate some negative employment experiences.

References come in two flavors: personal and professional. Personal references include friends, business associates, and former coworkers as well as people you know through professional associations and volunteer organizations. Although it is generally assumed by employers that personal references will say only nice things about you, they are often still contacted. As you are judged by the company you keep, choose carefully. Friends who have poor communication skills or tendencies toward tasteless humor at the wrong times should be avoided.

Personal references should be those who know you fairly well and can say something reasonably specific about your character or skill level. It doesn’t help your cause when someone says, “I don’t know her well, but . . .” This is especially true of any influential or well-known people you choose. Such name-dropping will only be of value if the individual knows you personally, not just your parents or some other family member. Their level of help can also be questionable if they were only acquainted with you as a child.

Professional references include current and former bosses, peers in other departments, and customers. Your most important references are usually former bosses. Many companies, however, are increasingly refusing to provide more than the barest of information—such as job titles and dates of employment— due to a rash of defamation of character suits in recent decades.

In reality, when pressed, a former supervisor who liked you might surreptitiously defy company policy and provide some positive information. Conversely, a boss who did not care for you may be only too happy, just as surreptitiously, to offer negative feedback.

If your most recent employers are enjoined by policy from providing recommendations, there are strategies you can use to compensate. Try locating supervisors or colleagues who have left those organizations. Peers and associates still working for your previous employer are often available for contact, being somewhat removed from the actual chain of command.

Vendors and customers can be enormously valuable. Bosses and supervisors, when permitted, often feel obligated, for one reason or another, to say positive things about former employees; vendors and customers are under no such obligation. The only reason they are serving as references is because they want to. To get the biggest bang for the buck, get their permission and discuss the nature of their statements in advance.

A reference page should provide basic information about each person: Full name, title, company name, business address, phone number, and email. Never provide personal (e.g., home) contact information unless the reference specifically directs you to do so. The person’s relationship to you and knowledge of specific skill areas may also be included: supervisor, vendor, customer, associate.

Finding former bosses who can act as references is important because it frustrates employers when they can’t obtain this information. Hiring you becomes more of a gamble and an absence of references can serve as a reason to go with someone who is perhaps less appealing, but safer.

As with all references, get permission from these former employers. Fill them in on what you’ve been up to since you worked together. Let them know the gist of what you would like them to say about you. A few reminders might be in order, so have an outline in front of you.

If you had a mixed relationship with the person, steer the conversation into those positive areas you want to cover. If you were terminated or left for lessthan-positive reasons, assure the person how you have grown, matured, and succeeded since your days together. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the weight of the favor you are asking. You will be surprised as to the response.

If you are currently unemployed and were fired from your last job, you face an especially difficult situation. But there are strategies to mitigate the problem. First, ask your boss and HR what they will say about you. Feel free to indicate what you would like them to say. Often this can be negotiated if you don’t like what they indicate they will say. The only way to be absolutely sure about what will be said is to have a friend call, or to use a reference checking firm.

There are reference checking services that will make these calls for you. Do an online search for “reference checking.” Depending on the amount you wish to spend, you will get reports ranging from direct transcripts of the conversation to annotated versions. The latter include some interpretation of the speaker’s tone and attitude toward you. For instance, “She was a real gem,” can be presented both as a compliment or a slur, depending on the tone of voice.

In determining what your ex-boss or HR department will disclose about you, carefully select someone to call them. Ideally this would be a highly professional businessperson who could call from work. This is important, because the person you are wanting to reach may ask for your friend’s phone number and promise to call back later. Your friend must be prepared to describe the position you’re being considered for.

Make sure your friend has a checklist of things to ask. This would include:

  1. Strengths
  2. Weaknesses
  3. Initiative
  4. Dependability
  5. Professionalism
  6. Eligibility for Rehire
  7. Additional Comments ________________________________

These days, many organizations, owing to fear of litigation, will provide only basic information such as title and dates of employment. If this is the case, your problem might not be as serious as you feared.

Regardless of the response, it is always helpful to contact the ex-boss, if possible, to negotiate what we call a non-aggression treaty. Most ex-employers do not wish to permanently damage your career prospects. With that in mind, see if you can come up with a reason for leaving that you both can live with. This might include something as simple as “left to pursue other challenges” or “mutually determined the position was not the right fit,” and so on. It never hurts to ask.

Basic Reference Page

references for Sheila r. Page

Richard Morrisey Sales Manager ElectraVista, Inc. 10044 NE 8th Street, Suite A-102 Bellevue, WA 98004

(425)
555-1000 Ext. 313 rmorrisey@electravista.com Relationship: Past supervisor
Sandra Gonzales Regional Vice President of Sales COMEX Corp. 816 65th Avenue NE Redmond, WA 98052
(425)
555-1732 s.gonzales@comex.corp.com Relationship: Past supervisor

Nancy Reeves Purchasing Director Northwest Electronic Manufacturing Group 33198 Third Avenue Seattle, WA 98102

(206) 555-2002 npreeves@nemgroup.com Relationship: Current customer

The following example provides a more detailed and directed reference page. Here, the candidate not only provides the basic contact information but the skill sets each reference will address. This strategy provides the employer seeking one or more of these specific strengths a road map to the specific destination.

references for Kenneth wong

Past Supervisor Rob Jensen
Able to comment on my ability to Senior Project Manager
organize and plan projects that achieve Qwest
predetermined goals and get completed 2312 Fourth Avenue
on schedule and within budget. Also able Seattle, WA 98213
to comment on my commitment to the (206) 281-2309 (work)
organization and my team members.
Past Supervisor Cynthia Gonzalez
Able to comment on my ability to take on Acquisitions Manager
complex projects with tight deadlines and Qwest
motivate a team to achieve goals. Also able to 1981 Fifth Avenue
comment on my supervisory ability and the Denver, CO 80228
ability to develop staff that is highly (303) 760-2398 (work)
regarded and gets promoted.
Past Supervisor Revokh Traczewski
Able to comment on my ability to negotiate with Senior Vice President
government entities and private organizations Mountain Wireless
to acquire properties and rights of way that 345 Mountain Drive
helped Mountain Wireless grow at a Boulder, CO 80303
rate of 42% per year for six years. (720) 764-0987 (work)
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