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Who should I list as references when applying for a job?


referencesAnne asked: 

I just immigrated to the US and the only persons that I really know are my family members. I am applying for jobs online and they require me to list references. What should do?

Hello Anne,

References are an important part of you job search. References can attest to your skill, experience, character and general employ-ability.

Here are a few bits of advice regarding references:

Provide professional references, not personal references

When you are applying for jobs, potential employers want to talk to references who are somewhat objective  and can speak to your relevant professional qualifications; not just people who know you and will say nice things about you.  For this reason, family members typically make lousy professional references.

Think about it:  How objective can mom, dad, aunt Margie or uncle Karl be about you?  “She’s such a nice girl. You should hire her!”

What can they really say about your educational or professional qualifications? “She’s a smart girl. She can do anything she sets her mind to.”

The answer: Not a lot!

On the other hand, former employers, current or former co-workers, persons who have supervised your work on volunteer and service projects, and professors and teachers who have had you in their classes are all in a good position to be able to speak with some level of authority and knowledge about your skills, abilities and experience.

Anne – in your circumstances. Can you get letters of reference from former teachers or employers in your home country?   Do you have school advisors or teachers here in the US who can offer references? When ever possible, avoid using family as references.

Always ask first before listing someone as a reference

Never list someone as a reference without their permission or knowledge. No matter how highly someone might think or you, they do not want to be surprised when an employer calls them for a reference on you.  It’s discourteous, and it’s bad business.    When someone is not prepared to provide a reference, they will not be able to do a good job speaking on your behalf.  Your reference is doing you a favor.  Help them help you.

Choose your references carefully

Just because you were in a professor’s class does not mean that she will be a good reference for you.

How well do you know that professor?  How well will she remember you?  What can she really say about you that will be of interest and value to your potential employers?

If you are applying for jobs that require customer service skills, get references from people who can offer feedback on your customer service skills?

If you are applying for jobs that require you to be reliable. dependable, able to work independently, get references from people who can speak to those aspects of your character.

Choose your references carefully, and they can be really helpful in your search for employment.

Keep your references in the loop

If you have just interviewed for a job and the interviewer asked you for references, call and alert your references to expect the reference call.  If someone gave you a reference and you get the job, call or email to tell them and thank them for their assistance.  Keep your reference in the loop on your job search and they won’t just be references; they will become mentors and advisors.

Pay it forward

When you are in a position to provide a reference, pay it forward.  Be honored by the request and take the responsibility seriously.

Hope this helps!



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