Ultimate Guide to picking good job references in Redmond

You know you’re nearing the final stretch of an interview process (and that it’s looking good for you) when a potential employer asks these three questions:

  1. When would you be available to start? (Or, how much notice do you need to give your current employer?)
  2. Can we get you set up for your physical and drug screen?
  3. Will you please provide us with a list of professional references we may contact?

Question number three can rattle even the strongest of candidates if you’re not prepared to respond swiftly with names, titles, the nature of the relationship, and current contact information for however many people with whom they’d like to speak.

Don’t get caught in scramble mode at this stage of the game. Your prompt response and the quality of your references can take you the distance if you play this right.

Let’s begin.

Who Should I List (or Not List) as a Reference?

Generally speaking, your future employer wants to talk with the following people, in order of importance (depending on your role):

  1. Your current manager or supervisor
  2. Your prior managers or supervisors
  3. Your current peers or clients (if you’re interviewing for a client-facing role)
  4. Your prior peers or clients
  5. Your personal references or friends who will vouch for you

Number five, by the way, is a remote fifth place. Reserve this one for only those times you have few other options, and make sure to ask if it’s OK to include personal references before you do so. Also, if you’re a graduating college student (or recent grad), you can absolutely include professors who may be able to speak to your performance and work ethic.

Never (ever) include relatives, unless you happen to work directly for or with one. Oh, and absolutely don’t ever give a fake name and then commission your buddy to “pretend” to be your employer or peer. Recruiters are not stupid. Treat them so at your own peril.

Keep in mind that the primary reason why potential employers want to check your references is because they want a third party to vouch for your on-the-job performance and character. You can tout your greatness all day long in the interview, but it truly gels for decision makers when others tout it for you.

Should They Be on My Resume?

Nooooooo. Heavens, no. Not only do you not need to list out your references, you shouldn’t. It takes up unnecessary resume space, and there’s a remote chance that a recruiter may be more interested in, say, your manager (who you’ve listed) than he or she is in you. No need to hand over all of this information before you captivate him or her.

Likewise, no need to write out “References available upon request.” This is a given. When the hiring manager want them, he or she will ask for them. 100% of the time.

What If I’m a Covert Job Seeker?

This can be a tricky one. If you’re currently employed—and job searching on the sly—who can you trust in these final, important legs of a job transition? I can’t answer this one definitively because every situation is different, and the stakes can be quite high. Trust your gut.

Chances are, you aren’t going to be able to use your current manager as a reference. Certainly, consider enlisting former managers. But you should also think about asking one to two colleagues with whom you have a close personal bond (and established level of trust). If and when you ask them for this support, spell it out very clearly how important it is for you to keep your search under wraps—and the potential consequences for you if they blab.

Also, if you’re providing your potential employer with a relatively weak list of references, be sure and alert them that you’re aware of that, and explain why.

How Should I Ask?

I always encourage clients to approach potential references with specificity, instead of the old, “Hey, would you be willing to be my reference?” Do that, and you’re going to have to let the chips fall where they may in terms of what this person offers up. And along those lines, do this over the phone if possible. You’ll get a much better idea of how excited (or unexcited) this person is to help you.

Make sure to frame your request in a way that spells out the details of the role you’re pursuing, what you anticipate the caller is likely going to want to talk about, and how he or she can be the most helpful.

Example: “Because they’re going through so much change and restructuring right now, I’m guessing they’re going to want to make sure I have strong leadership skills and the ability to turn around struggling teams and programs. If you’re willing, I’d love for you to share some detail on the program we revitalized in 2014.”

Be specific, and also ask this direct question at the end of the call, “May I count on you to give me a favorable reference should the company contact you?”

Don’t assume your past co-worker or boss is going to sing your praises. You never know—she may be jealous of your opportunity here or feel like you dropped the ball on something last year. If you ask this question, you’ll either get a “Yes, of course you can count on me” or an awkward pause or waffle. Don’t list anyone who responds with the awkward pause or waffle. Lukewarm references can sink you in the home stretch.

Is There Anything I Should Provide My References With?

Ideally, provide them with a copy of the job description or an overview of the role and main responsibilities. If you can, also give them some background on the person you anticipate will be calling them, so that they can feel up-to-date and prepared for the conversation.

Also, if it’s someone you’ve used as a reference before (and you suspect would be fine being listed again), provide him or her with a heads-up. Don’t list people without giving them any indication that you’ve used them as a reference for this next opportunity. That’s rude, and it may annoy them to the point of not giving you a glowing review.

What Do I Do After They Are Contacted?

Honestly, you don’t always know when a reference has been contacted, but often times your people will follow up to let you know the conversation just took place.

What do you do? This one is easy—thank him or her, and offer to return the favor if it’s ever needed. And, when you land that job? Most definitely let each of your references know, and consider a small thank you gift, like a coffee gift card or lunch.

Get it right, take it the distance, and enjoy that amazing new gig in 2016.

Are you building strong connections

You never know when you’ll need someone’s professional help, which is why it’s important to develop an active list of connections. You don’t want the first time someone has heard from you in five years to be when you’re looking for a new job.

Instead, make genuine friendships with those in your circle and try to help them where you can too. Networking is a two-way street, and if you can help someone, why not do so?

Never stop learning

Learning and development are vital in the working world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or an administrator, you should always continue to grow your knowledge, both in and outside of your field. You can do so by reading current news, books, talking to people within your industry or even listening to podcasts. The options are truly endless; what’s important is to have the right mindset and always absorb new information like a sponge!

Never Stop Learning

One of the most powerful things to advance your career — or in any circumstance for that matter — is knowledge.

Never stop learning. This will improve the way you think, and of course, your knowledge.

One of the best things that happened in this pandemic is online learning. Now, education has become more accessible than ever. There shouldn’t be an excuse for people not to learn new things.

Just because we are in a Pandemic does not mean we stop networking.

Try to connect with many people

Growing your network is an important part of career development. The more people you know, the more likely you are to grow your career as your network can provide you with unique opportunities, not only about finding new job opportunities but helping each other out for professional projects or sharing new connections for partnerships within your work. There are so many advantages to growing your network.

Connect online and offline. There are multiple ways of expanding your network, even remotely or through online events: attending webinars, online meetups, joining group channels/communities (on slack, linkedin, facebook, xing or more), up to visiting physical events.

Work Life balance is the key to long term success

Life is not all work. You need to treat and pamper yourself regularly. You need to balance work, education, and fun.

You may be busy with work, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to have fun. If you have a hobby like Stand-up Paddle Boarding, squeeze in an hour a day or a few hours during the weekend to still fulfill these things.

Same with education. Always learn new things and never stop learning. With time, you can still give a few hours a day to learn something new or during your days off work.

Tips for College Grads

Gain professional experience through an internship

Trying out different fields and learning new skills is the perfect way to see what type of career path you’d like to take.  Professional experience, no matter the sector, will better prepare you for the real world and help you figure out what you enjoy. Plus, getting a foot in the door when you’re young will make the job hunt less painful.

Are you making this mistake in your interviews?

Only Answer Questions

Yes, you’re expected to answer a lot of questions in an interview. That’s the whole point. But, you should come prepared with your own questions, too. Not only does that signal your interest in the position and company, but it shows that you will take an active role in discussions and meetings if hired.

If you’re stuck on what to ask, keep it generic. Ask about the culture of the company, how the team dynamic is or what the manager is looking for in their ideal hire. The point is to engage in the conversation so it’s not one-sided.

Do not do this at your next interview?

Pretend You Know an Answer When You Don’t

If you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t make one up or act as if you know. Instead, use it as an opportunity to show you can be humble and how you would handle yourself if a similar situation came up on your team or with a client or manager. Offer to look up the answer or do research and get back to them within a specified timeline. While it’s obviously not ideal, it is better than getting caught in a lie. Plus, it shows how you deal with conflict.

Put on an Act

An interview is your opportunity to show a company and the hiring manager your personality. While it’s important to put your best foot forward, it’s equally as important to be yourself.

Use Corporate Jargon

In the same vein as being yourself, don’t pepper your speech with jargon. Speak how you normally would in a professional setting. Be direct but kind and leave the figures of speech and words that don’t really mean anything behind.

Are you thinking about your Career Path?

Every year or so, deeply consider your career path

About once a year, you should go out and refresh your network, check out new opportunities and conduct salary comparisons. It is easier to make strategic career decisions when you have real data to compare to the benefits of your current job. It is important to know where you stand in your industry. You may also consider sharpening your knowledge of new industry trends each year to remain competitive in the job market if you should ever choose to or need to leave your current workplace.