How To Pick The Best References For Your Job Search
By: Gail Mayes February 7, 2018
In our work finding key staff members for our clients, we ask job candidates to provide references in three categories: an individual they reported to, a colleague or peer, and at least one individual that reported to the candidate. Even within these three categories, candidates often ask, “who should I list as a reference?”
In this post are 5 criteria (and a bonus tip) to help you figure out who you should list as a reference in your job search.
Pick references that can talk about:
1. Your Work
Your references should be able to answer questions about the quality and substance of your work from firsthand knowledge.
They should be able to answer basic questions about your strengths and give honest feedback about areas in which you could use improvement. They should also be able to talk about which environments you work best in and which environments you would struggle to perform in.
In short, this person should be able to provide valuable insight into your current abilities and future potential. There are many individuals who can talk about your work. Supervisors, staff that report to you, and volunteers are actively engaged in your work and have a fantastic perspective on your day-to-day contributions.
2. How You Relate to Your Team
We specifically talk to teammates or peers of our candidates because they provide crucial insight into the type of team members they are and the impact on culture that they have. We love hearing how candidates interact with their colleagues during staff meetings around the office, in the break room, or even during lunch.
It is important to include a reference from a peer in your job search, because this person has likely experienced a different side of you than a direct supervisor. A peer will know what it’s like to work beside you in the trenches, and be a better gauge on your character as a result.
3. How You Relate to Leadership
Not all your references will know of your private interactions with those in leadership (though at least one should have first-hand knowledge) but they should be able to give answers to your general attitude towards leadership and your response to decisions made by leadership.
This reference could be a past or current supervisor. For those who are currently in senior leadership, it could be an Elder or board member to whom you reported at one time.
4. Your Leadership Abilities
We ask references to describe the leadership abilities and leadership style of candidates. Could your references talk about how you run a meeting or how you lead those who report to you? Provide references who can answer questions about your leadership style and your effectiveness as a leader. This might be a supervisor who watched you build teams, or a volunteer who you recruited, trained, and are now leading.
5. The Real You
We aren’t saying that your references should be your best friends (and we would actively advise against that, unless they also fall into one of the three categories mentioned above), but a close coworker or a previous supervisor who has turned into a mentor are fantastic references. People who know the “real you” and not just the “work you” can talk both about your professional abilities and who you are as a person.
BONUS: They aren’t related to you.
If your reference is related to you, then they shouldn’t be your reference. If your relative has been your supervisor, they still shouldn’t be listed as a reference.
While there is no clear-cut way to ensure you’ll get a job, there are some steps you can take to set yourself up for success. Use these tips and create a team of references that will make you stand out in your job search.
What are some effective references that you've used in the past?