It is common practice that during the final stages of a job interview process, after you’ve become a leading candidate for an opening, your prospective employer’s HR department will want to contact your professional references. Whether references were requested when submitted your resume or after the subsequent interviews, it is of the utmost importance to be prepared to give strong references if you want to get the job.
Who are your references?
Your references can be anyone who has had contact with you professionally or academically and can speak positively on your skills, knowledge and abilities. Don’t simply limit your possible reference list to former supervisors and managers; think broadly about your references in order to narrow your list down to the select few that will be able to give the best (and, more importantly, most positive) details. Consider academic contacts, such as professors and fellow members of student organizations. This is especially important for first-time job seekers fresh out of university with little in the way of professional references. For experienced job seekers, think about present and former co-workers, especially those who can vouch for your attitude, qualifications, leadership skills, and teamwork ability. Also consider former customers and other employees you may have had contact with who may have not worked with you directly. Again, the most important thing here is narrowing your list to a handful of references that will have the best things to tell a prospective employer about you.
Preparing your references
The worst thing you can do at the reference stage of the hiring process is not contacting your references ahead of time. Imagine going about your day when, out of the blue, a stranger calls asking for details about the work habits of a long-gone former co-worker. How would you answer that? At best, after the confusion cleared, you might give some vague recollections, but this would in no way help the job seeker. Keep this in mind and be sure to contact your prospective references right away. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind being a reference for you. If they are fine with it, be sure to get accurate contact information for them. This is an important and oft-overlooked detail that could trip you up. Nothing embarrasses like having an interviewer call you back for the right number for a reference who you’re supposed to be close to!
After you have verified the reference’s ability to vouch for you and gotten their contact information, try to engage in a conversation about your past work. At the very least, ask them if they have any questions or if there’s anything you need to verify for them. The idea is to refresh their memory so they are ready to give a reference. Once you have your reference list, it’s a good idea to contact your references each time you reach the point in the interview process where references may be contacted, just to let them know they may soon receive a call, and from whom.