Q: I am applying for a job with a large company here in Houston. How do I choose my references?
A: Just like your resume, your reference choices are a way to tell your potential employer something about yourself, so start by asking yourself, “What is the most important thing you want to say?” Here’s my advice on how to decide: First, reread the job description. How much of it is focused on working with information versus working with people? Many corporate jobs require working with data. For example, an analyst job can require reading and reviewing information as much as 5-6 hours a day and making recommendations based on what you have reviewed. If you reread the job description and see a lot of emphasis on working with data, choose three people that know about your ability to analyze data.
If you are applying for a management position or the job description says you will have a team or you will be working with other departments, third-party stakeholders, or clients, you should also choose someone as a reference who can say first hand that you work well with people. A former boss is a great choice when you are applying for a management job. Managers are technical experts, but they also know how to motivate people and quickly solve problems. Great managers consistently motivate people and solve problems with positive results. In many corporations, the managers are a big part of the broader leadership team.
I do think it’s important to have a character reference. This is someone who knows you very well and can say that you are, for example, a strong person who is able to handle and overcome obstacles. Or, you are a creative person that offers ideas to solve problems that are not even your responsibility. Companies are looking for the best talent. They want people who can do the job and contribute to the organization in other ways.
Now, once you have identified your references, take some time to help them help you. Send them a description of the job and why you think you are qualified for it. Tell them what you would like them to emphasize. Trust me, they will be glad you took the time to prepare them and they will do a better job as your reference.
One last thing, make sure that everyone has the right contact information. This includes the HR contact, the hiring manager you interviewed with, and the people you have chosen for references. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to check a reference and the phone number is wrong. This creates more work for the person who is trying to offer you a job – and that’s not smart.
Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs. She wants to answer your career questions – so you can get ahead at work. Email your questions to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or at Forward Times, email@example.com