It’s important to write a strong resume reference page, and to learn how to manage your references with ease. This will ensure that you get what you need from them – their solid and unwavering recommendation for the job you want.
Here are 6 frequently asked questions from my clients regarding building their references, followed by a personal reference template:
1) Is it okay to list a family member or friend on my resume reference page?
Listing a family member or friend is not a good idea, because it introduces a bias or ‘conflict of interest’ into the situation.
In other words, your mother, uncle or best friend is unlikely to give a fair or objective opinion about you. Instead, they will tend to exaggerate the positive and minimize the negative. Also, such a person cannot give a valid opinion about your job performance, only about your general character.
This is not nearly as valuable to an employer, but is certainly “better than nothing.”
Someone who was your direct supervisor within a long-term permanent paid position is the best person to list on your resume reference page. Why? Because a boss depended on you for important things and is able to evaluate your most important professional qualities.
Otherwise, look for people who are as close as possible to that ideal. Other good sources are supervisors from paid contract or part-time positions, long-time co-workers who depended upon your teamwork for their success, volunteer supervisors and teachers or professors.
Doctors, lawyers and other professionals can make good character recommendations, along with long-time older friends of the family who are not your blood relatives.
People can only share what they know about you, and a big factor in this is how long they’ve known you. This is quite often the first question that the employer asks at the beginning of a reference check.
2) What if I don’t want to include my present employer on my resume reference page?
If you have worked for other supervisors within the same company during your time there – whether they are still there or not – approach them confidentially.
You could also ask the interviewer if you can provide an alternate choice such as a long-time co-worker who worked closely with you and relied upon you to get things done.
3) Can I avoid asking my most recent past supervisor?
Do you have previous supervisors who you would avoid or hesitate asking? I certainly do, as do most people. Employers know this, and will not necessarily fault you for it as long as you conduct a strong interview and provide a strong overall resume reference page.
How you explain your decision to leave your last boss out of your resume reference page is also important. Be sure to speak positively or at least neutrally about them. It’s also vital to speak generally and not inject any strong emotion.
For example, you might say, gently yet assertively,
“We had different work styles, and we both tried our best to communicate clearly with each other and maintain an open working relationship. In the end, after a year, I decided that it would be best for me to move forward into new career challenges.”
Picking and Choosing Your Best References
People come into the world of work with many different personalities and work styles, and it is highly likely that you will encounter some supervisors who don’t understand your personality or work style. This will cause a rift between you, even if both of you are dedicated to fulfilling your professional roles there.
This just happens as a natural consequence of working in this complicated modern world of ours. So keep this in mind, and choose your references, and your supervisors, as carefully as you can. Pick only the ones that you know will fully support you.
4) How do I know if someone will support me or not?
Do people ever give bad or negative recommendations? Yes! I hear about it all the time. I have heard of times when people say they are wiling to recommend someone, but then end up giving negative feedback about the applicant’s performance.
It is actually illegal in some countries to do this, but nonetheless it still happens and obviously destroys your chances of winning that particular job.
So just to be sure, don’t ask someone only if they are willing to recommend you. Instead, ask something more specific like, “Are you willing to be a positive, fully supportive reference for me?” Of course, use your own words.
If you get an unclear answer, then it’s best to avoid using this person. Look elsewhere!
5) What’s the best way to stay in touch with my references?
Do your best to keep in contact, even when you’re not job searching. Call them or send them an email at least twice each year. This will ensure that they don’t forget who you are:-) and also confirm that you have their correct contact information.
It’s equally important to call them in advance before the job interview and then once again before the job interviewer calls them.Tell them about the job and organization, and inform them about some of the key issues discussed during the interview. This will help them provide the most relevant information about your past job performance during the reference call.
6) How do I list people on my resume reference page?
Here is a sample reference sheet listing. Most employers require 3 solid references, but may also ask for 2 or 4. Some require that only supervisors from full-time paid positions be included, whereas others are more flexible.
I use the same font and main text font size as for my cover letter and resume, and only include basic contact information as noted in the template below unless the employer specifically requests otherwise. Be prepared to offer this list at the end of your interview.
References – First Name Middle Initial Last Name
Ms./Mr./Dr. First Name and Last Name
Specific Job Title
Zip or Postal Code
(Area Code) Phone-Number
Here’s an example:
Mr. John Doe
Manager of Shoe Sales
Acme Shoe Company
2854 Main St.
New York, NY
Notice that in this sample reference sheet I keep everything simple and easy to read for the overworked human resources staff 🙂
Eric Weir holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Toronto, Canada and offers over 6 years of employment and career counseling experience to clients of all ages and walks of life. Eric publishes other articles at his website, http://www.job-search-coach.com.