When it comes to gathering job references, new graduates and those reentering the workforce can sometimes draw blanks.
You crafted the perfect resume and paired it with a cover letter tailored to the employer you want to work for. You’ve rehearsed clever answers to all those tricky interview questions like, “Why do you want to work here?” With those things out of the way you’re ready to breeze into a new job.
Not so fast. Did you remember your references? If so, how much thought did you put into really understanding how each one will best help you land the job you’re working so hard to get?
Establishing references isn’t usually an issue for a seasoned job seeker who has many contacts from their current job. But if you’re a new college graduate or you’ve been out of the workforce a while, identifying the right job references can be challenging. You shouldn’t just track down old bosses and coworkers (or call your mom), without first knowing what it is employers want to learn about you from any references you can offer.
How To Provide References
In the old days it was acceptable to finish a resume with the sentence, “References provided upon request.” It didn’t take long for this phrase to become outdated from it uselessness. After all, it was a given that if you wanted a job you would give references when asked. And, it was a waste of precious space on the resume.
These days, references should be prepared on a separate sheet of paper with each person’s complete contact information, which can be sent with your resume or given provided at the time of your interview
Resume expert Lois Gilbert, founder of The Resume Wordsmith, advises that you never use a person as a reference without first asking them. Then, it is perfectly acceptable to give each reference an outline of what you’d like them to cover. (After all, they wouldn’t agree to being a reference if they didn’t have your best interests in mind.)
If, during an interview, you use someone as a reference not on your list, notify that person immediately after the interview, spelling out to him or her what the company is looking for.
If You’re A New Graduate
With little or no real work history you might think you have no one to vouch for you. Not so. You can use your internship supervisor, the manager of a volunteer program you worked for, your former instructors or professors, and even connections you’ve made from your LinkedIn profile.
“When it comes to new graduates,” says Gilbert, “employers want to see what your work ethics were like, if you had a team spirit, if you volunteered, and if you have any tech knowledge.” Furthermore, emphasizes Gilbert, as a college grad you need to utilize LinkedIn as soon as possible, connecting to the people you volunteered for and interned under.
Don’t wait for those connections to go cold; ask for LinkedIn recommendations while those relationships are still active. LinkedIn also benefits you because it allows you to share some of you personality along with your resume, something important to employers when trying to determine what you will be like to work with, says Gilbert.
If You Are Reentering the Workforce
This can be a difficult stage in one’s career for crafting references. Often, ties with previous contacts have disappeared. However, once you understand what it is prospective employers want to learn about your from those references, this hurdle can be easily overcome.
“Employers want to see you haven’t been just sitting at home,” says Gilbert. So at this stage references from any useful activity you’ve been involved with are most helpful. This would include volunteer work with your religious organization, kids’ schools, or even relevant social activities. Include instructors from college courses you may have taken and seminars or workshops you’ve attended, even if they were online.
“Convey to employers that you are up to date on your skills,” says Gilbert. “References should involve specific contributions that you’ve made [during your time off work].”
Whether you’re a new graduate, or reentering the workforce, Gilbert offers this reminder:
“Remember those references you don’t voluntarily provide, such as Instagram and Facebook. Always use good judgement and taste.” These unanticipated personal references help employers see who you are outside the workplace. After all, it is you with whom they will work, not your references.
Though trying to land a job can be a scary for new graduates and those who have been out of the workforce, knowing in advance what employers are looking for helps make the process less unnerving. Keep in mind that not all references are created equal.
What employers want to learn about a new grad differs from what they are trying to assess about someone who is reentering the workforce. Just like a tailored resume and well-crafted resume, references should receive just as much thought and planning if you want to move forward from where you are now.
Your Turn: Are you a new graduate or reentering the workforce? What references do you think will help you the most when it comes to landing a new job?
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