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With more companies researching job candidates online and through social media, it may seem as if traditional references are less useful than they used to be. Have they become obsolete?
Far from it. For hiring managers, there's still no substitute for discussing you and your work with the people who know those topics best. References are a great way to distinguish professionals who have made a lasting impact on their employers from those who merely look good on paper.
Hiring managers hear lots of vague praise. A recommendation that seems halfhearted or generic can actually hurt your chances of receiving an offer. Ho-hum references can suggest not only that you haven't knocked the socks off previous employers, but also that you didn't put much thought into preparing your reference team.
While you can't control what your references say about you, you can set yourself up to receive powerful endorsements. Here are eight tips for doing so.
1. Don't wait. Start preparing your list of references before you send out your résumé. A last-minute scramble to put references together can lead to incoherent or irrelevant recommendations. Employers expect three to five references; it's a good idea to line up more than you need and then choose the most pertinent ones for each prospective position.
2. Choose wisely. Choose your references based on their ability to provide meaningful impressions about you, not the prestige of their title. A busy chief information officer who remembers you fondly but struggles to recall any of your specific achievements may be less helpful than a colleague who has worked alongside you on numerous projects.
3. Round out your team. Hiring managers understand that candidates in the early stages of their career may not have a deep pool of managers and colleagues from which to choose. Former professors or fellow members of a professional association can work fine as long as they know you well and have strong communication skills.
4. Ask first. No matter how confident you are about someone's appreciation for your work, never list a reference without permission. Even if the reference isn't miffed by your presumption, she's unlikely to deliver a convincing endorsement during a surprise phone call.
Note how long it takes each potential reference to respond to your request. If you don't hear back promptly, chances are a hiring manager won't either.
5. Keep in touch. After someone has agreed to serve as a reference, verify his contact information and provide your up-to-date résumé. Follow up whenever you think the person is likely to receive a call. This gives you a chance to confirm your reference's availability and to brief him on the key requirements of the position. Ideally your contact will start thinking about specific reasons you'd be a good fit.
6. Be thorough. On your reference list, include each person's name, title, company, email address and phone number. A sentence or two about your work history with each reference can help the hiring manager ask the most pertinent questions. Hiring managers assume that references are available upon request, so you don't need to include that phrase on your résumé.
7. Be upfront. If you don't want your current boss to know you're looking for a new job, mention that to the hiring manager when you provide your references. Otherwise, the omission of your direct supervisor might look like a red flag. A trusted, discreet colleague at your company may make a suitable replacement.
8. Come prepared. You shouldn't provide your references until they're requested, but it's a good idea to bring a hard copy to your interview. Presenting a complete list on the spot suggests confidence and strong organizational skills.
Building and maintaining a reference list shouldn't be confined to your job search. If you treat it as an ongoing part of your professional networking efforts, you won't have to sweat the process each time you're on the market. Stay in touch and let your most valued contacts know that you're available to provide references, too. Your endorsement might be the deciding factor for someone whose work you appreciate -- and for that person's fortunate new employer.
With more than 100 locations worldwide, Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Robert Half Technology offers online job search services at www.rht.com. Follow Robert Half Technology on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalftech.
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