Between tweaking resumes down to the very last margin size, fervently practicing answers to interview questions, and modeling dozens of interview outfits to prepare for the big day, it can be easy to put selecting solid references on the backburner and forget about it until OOPS, you have to quick ask the first people you think of (example: “Hey frat buddy! If an interviewer calls you, can you put down your beer and tell them I’m a good person?”) Oftentimes, the importance of references is overshadowed by the other key ingredients of an interview, but this can be a dire mistake.
Potential employers KNOW your resume and cover letter will speak highly of you and your experience. After all, you wrote it, didn’t you? (if you didn’t participate in the crafting of your own resume and cover letter, that is a problem for a different day). Employers want to know what OTHER people have to say about you, your work ethic, and your character. Selecting a stellar reference could make up for shortcomings in your resume, but including a subpar reference could change an employer’s mind about you and detract from how solid your resume might have been. Consider your entire employment package- resumes, cover letters, and references- thoroughly developing each component will shed the best light on you as a potential employee.
So with so many people in your life, how do you pick who would be the best references?
-Since this revolves entirely around the purpose of employment, it is very good to include a reference who has firsthand experience with you in a working environment. It is very beneficial to have a solid reference from a previous boss or supervisor who can speak to all of your attributes, the progress and difference you made at the organization, etc. If you are not confident a direct supervisor would give you a good recommendation, either because they are jaded about you leaving the organization or some other reason, you can look to coworkers to be references as well. They can speak to what it was like working WITH you, your ability to be a part of a team, etc.
-Another place to look for references is academic advisors or mentors. While they might not know you in a professional setting, these individuals know your learning capacity and have a good understanding of your work ethic, the quality of the projects you produce, etc. They can really speak to the potential you possess.
-Former coashes or extracurricular advisors can make excellent references, because they can speak to your competitive drive, your ability to overcome obstacles, and again, your ability to work on a team.
-Other mentors in your life can make good references that speak to your character, but try to shy away from direct family or friends, as prospective employers may feel these individuals are biased. They will likely assume your mom will say “OF COURSE, you deserve the job! You’re her little baby!” If you’re living at home, family members will be even more biased to get you a job. Best to stick to more professional, unbiased references that can give an accurate portrayal of your character and ability to work.
-Pick only people that are willing, and people that are easy to contact. Make sure to alert your references that they may be receiving a call, and make sure they are comfortable with that. Also, make sure they are reliable to reach on the phone. Flighty or evasive references that take weeks to hunt down will just annoy and frustrate prospective employers. And of course, remember to say “Thank you” to those who are confident enough in your character and willing to share it to help you reach your professional objectives!