How To Nail Job Applications With The Right Referees

Trawling job sites, tailoring your resume, and running through interview questions combine to make job hunting stressful. To boost your chances of scoring that highly coveted job, spend some time thinking about your referees.

By endorsing your skills and experience, the right referees can really help your case, and convince a prospective employer that you’ll excel in the role. Employers will usually contact referees towards the end of the interview process, when they’re tossing up between the final candidates – so they’re a pretty big deal.

When choosing who you can count on to sing your praises, follow these guidelines.

Avoid using friends and family

When you’re compiling your reference list, opt for professional contacts over personal ones. Sure, your friends and family members will give you a glowing review, but chances are, they’re not equipped to vouch for you work-wise. They’re also biased by default. Employers aren’t naïve. They know you’re only going to provide positive references, but your best friend and your mum aren’t the most credible sources.

Career consultant Katie Roberts says most employers call referees to confirm specifics.

“They normally want to check the dates of employment, their job responsibilities and achievements, their strengths and weaknesses, and whether the employer would re-hire them,” she says.

While we’re on the subject of professional referees, they don’t necessarily need to come from paid positions. If you’re new to the work force, consider a professor or volunteer work supervisor.

Ask direct supervisors over your ‘work wife’

“You should ideally choose referees who you had a good working relationship with, and who will be able to provide the level of detail mentioned above to the employer,” Roberts explains.

In most cases, this is a direct supervisor, manager, or co-worker you’ve teamed up with on a number of projects – not the person you message on Slack when something funny happens in the office. They would be willing and able to explain how you handled your role, and added value to the company as a whole. Plus, they can give specific examples about your style (like whether you’re a team player) and performance, things your lunch break buddy might skim over.

Now, if you’re uncomfortable about listing your current boss for fear that it’ll jeopardise your job, that’s fine. Just be sure to include your most recent boss before that.

Tailor your references to suit the job you’re applying for

You update your resume to reflect the requirements of each job, so do the same with your references. Start by looking at the job description. What skills and assets does it mention? What experience is essential? From there, think about who, on your roster of references, can speak to those qualities. For example, the position you’re pursuing might involve a lot of presenting or problem solving, so pick people who can wax on about your skills in those departments.

As Roberts says, the ability to provide “the most relevant information” is key.

Think about your referees’ accessibility

When an employer wants to reach your referee, they shouldn’t have to try too hard. Your referees don’t have to be glued to their phones all day, but they should be somewhat accessible. That global manager who takes back-to-back meetings, or the jet-setting co-worker who spends more time in the air than on the ground may not be able to answer or return calls quickly. For those references, your best bet is to tell your prospective employer to send an email setting up a time to talk. That way, there’s no wild goose chase, and they won’t give up on contacting them.

Speaking of accessibility, it helps if your referees have a LinkedIn profile or web presence. Employers stalk too, so make their job easier! Also, pick people who can speak articulately and off-the-cuff – this can make the world of difference.

Ask your referees if you can use them

It sounds obvious, but be sure to ask your referees for permission to pass on their details. They’re doing you a favour, so not only is this the polite thing to do, but it also prevents your referee from being taken by surprise.

Once they accept, brief them on the job you’re applying for so they know what to expect if they receive a call. Share the name of the company (and, if possible, the person who will be contacting them), as well as the job specifications. By doing so, your referee will know what skills, strengths and responsibilities to highlight, rather than giving generic responses. They’ll also be able to think of concrete examples in advance.

Along with information on the job position, it’s a good idea to send your resume. When your referee is prepared, it reflects well on you.

While you can’t control what goes on behind-the-scenes at a company, you can control the image you present to employers. Referees are vital in shaping that, and with a little preparation, you can relax knowing they’ll be ready to promote you when the phone rings!