Excellent References Can Be the Clincher
by Linda Matias
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." This
childhood chant is familiar to many. It is probably the most famous comeback
line in playgrounds across the country. But does this jingle have merit outside
of the playground? In the real world, does it matter what others think of you?
You bet it does. In fact, it matters so much that potential employers seek
out the opinion of others as part of the selection process. An excellent
reference confirms to an employer that his or her assumption about your ability
to do the job is accurate; a negative reference will have the employer running
for the exit.
Since references can be the decisive factor on whether you are offered a
position, it is important to choose referents carefully. The traits of good
references are straightforward – they must be credible and provide a fair and
balanced representation of your qualifications. Though the criteria is not
complicated, choosing someone who can help you can be difficult.
Not only should referents be willing and able to speak enthusiastically on
your behalf, they must also have intimate knowledge of your experience and
accomplishments. It is not enough to compile a list of your fan base; references
must backup their opinions with hardcore facts.
This is why it is important that you not pick your references out of a hat,
but strategically choose them based on their power of influence.
Solid references fall under several categories:
- Managers who can provide specifics on your knowledge, skills, and
abilities and how your expertise influenced the advancement of the department.
- Colleagues who can provide details on successful projects that you were
part of and how your efforts directly impacted the outcome.
- Direct supports that can provide details on your ability to lead.
- Associates or vendors who can provide information on your professionalism
and integrity when conducting business.
Once you have compiled a list of references, you must take the time to
educate and prepare each one for his or her role in the process. You can easily
coach them to provide convincing, realistic testimonials by providing a current
resume and filling them in on your career objective. It is also to your
advantage to clue them in about the requirement of the job for which you have
During the course of the conversation, describe the position you are seeking,
the type of organizations you are applying to, and provide a listing of related
skills and accomplishments. In addition, jog their memories by describing the
projects that you worked on together and remind them of the end result.
Having a "sit down" with each reference will allow you to get reacquainted
and reduce the anxiety that the he or she may feel about saying the wrong
things. It will also put your mind at ease because you will have supportive
players who have your best interests at heart.
Linda Matias is President of CareerStrides and The
National Resume Writers' Association. She has been quoted in The Wall Street
Journal, New York Newsday, Newsweek, and HR-esource.com. Visit her website
or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.