The Right References

. 4 min read

It's true! Not all recruiters ask for references. However, if they do, you don’t want to be caught in an awkward spot by being unprepared. Adding to that, seeking last minute references can be chaotic. Have your references ready.

It is important to have references from different backgrounds (professionally) reflecting your relationship with each of them. After your interview, your references could be the key factor of whether or not you receive a job offer from a company. Select people who will emphasize your strengths and strong skill set. Mentioning someone you haven’t been in touch with for years may reflect poorly on you.

Who can you ask for references?

Having a ready list of references can be helpful to pick from when one is applying to different roles/industries. Here are four categories of people you can include on your list of professional references:

  • Former supervisor/employer: A previous supervisor/employer knows what your responsibilities were at your job and how you handled them. This reference could come from someone who may or may not be your boss. This could be a supervisor from an internship or some other project activity (for freshers). Any of these people would have spent enough time training you or working with you to get a fair idea of your personality, passions and character.
  • Teacher: A teacher's or professor’s reference is imperative. They will be able to share insights about the skills you developed during their course, as well as your personality in general.
  • Advisor: An academic advisor/mentor is someone who may or may not have taught you theory/practical subjects, but would have mentored you in your research work and other projects. Depending on the amount of time you have spent with them will determine if you can add them to this list. If your mentor is someone who got to know you really well during your education years, they can talk about how you've grown into the executive you are today.
  • Alumni/senior: Someone you worked alongside in college, even if they weren't your immediate senior, can be an excellent reference. They will be able to speak about things you worked on together and what you achieved as a team. It can often be all about how they perceived you as a student, and member of the different associations in college. Teamwork is an important soft skill an employer looks for, and adding it explicitly to your resume isn’t a great idea. So having someone to vouch for your teamwork skills is vital and very subtle.

The individuals on your list must be instantly notified when you know a hiring manager may contact them. If you haven’t been in constant touch, it might be helpful to send a short note about what you have been doing professionally and what this new role is all about. This will help them prepare well in advance.

Components of a good reference

In order to get the kind of reference you want, it is helpful to include the talking points you want in your reference in your request for one. This is especially the case when asking for a reference from someone who isn't particularly used to giving references.

So, to get a stellar reference letter or an impactful recommendation over call, make sure to communicate several key steps they need to take:

1. Introduce themselves and their relationship to you

It is important to help the hiring team to identify them as a valid reference. To establish their authority, the reference must mention how you are related to them and what is their current professional status.

2. Offer details of your key achievements

Just saying/writing positive statements about a candidate won’t have sufficient weight. Mentioning some of the key accomplishments the candidate has achieved in the field or industry can go a long way, as it adds authenticity to, what is otherwise, an unsubstantiated claim.

3. Be relevant

Once you have shared the job description of the role you have applied for, with the reference person, he/she is expected to keep it crisp and relevant to that role only. The story and examples being mentioned must be capable of positively affecting the hiring team and persuade them in favour of offering you a job.

4. Provide details about personality traits

Every company would want to hire candidates who have the personality traits that match the company’s culture. It is a good idea for the reference to share an anecdote that can showcase your strongest personality traits.

5. Give insight into your work ethic

Are personality traits and worth ethics, one and the same? No, they aren’t. Work ethics go beyond technical qualifications and personality. While this cannot be expressed accurately on resumes and cover letters, your reference can talk about this facet with examples and anecdotes.

If your reference hasn’t worked very closely with you, he/she can share some of their observations of you that they had when both of you worked in the same organisation.

Remember: Your references could make or break your chances of cracking the job interview. So make sure they have enough credibility professionally before you share their details as references.

An example

Please note: This is not a real reference. We have used pseudonyms.

Candidate Name: Priyanka Kaur

Reference: Amanda Stellar, Sr. VP of previous company

Priyanka and I have known each other for a while now. We have worked on varied number projects as part of the senior management. Priyanka is highly dedicated and creative. She handles employee-related concerns with great ease and intimacy, and applies the same with clients. She is approachable and will never shy away from helping her colleagues.

Priyanka has an extreme sense of ownership which resonates in her work as well as general conduct at the workplace. This one time, she was found helping the janitor fix something, and this other time she was helping the marketing team with some adhoc work. Be it tech, operations, business development or the fun committee, this lady will bring valuable contribution in each scenario. A brilliant team player and manager who knows how to get the work done, ensuring all stakeholders are learning and performing at the same time.

As a leader, I have seen her encourage, groom and motivate her subordinates to help them achieve the best versions of themselves. Priyanka was an asset to XYZ company and am certain, she can offer nothing less than her best to your organisation as well.

Have thoughts you would like to add? Let us know in the comments what you would add to the tips given above.

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