Choosing References? Avoid These 5 Mistakes

choosing references

Most employers will ask for references during the job search process. Have your list ready to go on day one, and you won’t have to fumble around making last-minute requests.

What makes a good reference? In short: someone who can speak to the quality of your work and who will say nice things about you in a persuasive way.

And how can you find those magical people? By avoiding these mistakes:

1. Not Asking Ahead of Time

Even if you and your former boss are close — like, bridesmaids-at-each-other’s-weddings close — don’t assume that she’ll be willing and able to vouch for you during a job search.

Why? Well, for one thing, some companies have policies about how much information current employees can give out about former employees. HR policy might state that she has to refer all callers to HR, where they’ll be told only that yes, you once worked there, and your title was XYZ. That won’t look great to a hiring manager.

Even if she can and will give you a glowing review, it’s just polite to ask beforehand. Plus, you’ll get a better reference if you give your contacts time to think.

2. Choosing Friends and Family

The best references are from people who’ve seen you in action — and that doesn’t mean your mom or your neighbor or your best friend. In fact, PayScale’s data show that job referrals from friends and family typically lowers salary offers by $1,600.

Of course, referrals and recommendations aren’t exactly the same thing. Still, having friends and family members who think highly of you won’t necessarily convince a hiring manager to make you an offer — or a competitive one.

3. Asking Someone Who Can’t Speak to the Quality of Your Work

Not all colleagues are equally effective, either. You might work in the same department with a coworker for 10 years, and not really know much about each other’s work style, achievements and skills. The best reference comes from someone who has worked with you directly and can give concrete examples of why you’re the best person for the job.

4. Choosing Someone Who Will Reflect Poorly on You

Don’t ask someone with a bad attitude or reputation. Their problems will become your problems, in the eyes of the hiring manager.

“This is most important if you’re applying to a company where your reference is already employed,” writes Caris Thetford at The Muse. “While you may not know another person’s reputation, you can make an educated guess by the way he talks about work. If it’s full of bitterness, complaining, and stories of confrontation, you might think twice about using him.”

5. Failing to Inform Your Reference About the Job

By the time you’ve worked for a few years, you likely have a diverse body of experience to offer a hiring manager — but the most important thing is to emphasize the skills and accomplishments that make you an ideal candidate for this job. For that reason, it’s essential to review the job description and duties with your references, and remind them of your relevant qualifications, before they talk to the hiring manager.

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