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Finding job references is like putting together the right toolbox for a construction project. Each tool serves a particular function. In the same way, a well-rounded list of references should portray you as an ideal candidate for the job while showcasing your skills and experiences. Here are five questions you should ask yourself before choosing job references.

Who should I ask?

Work backwards. List questions an employer might ask and choose references who are qualified to answer. Career Builder suggests employment verification, workplace performance, and personality traits as common points of inquiry.

  • What are your strengths, areas of improvement, and accomplishments?
  • What’s your work style as a team player or individual?
  • How did you step up as a leader in your past roles, solve a problem, or resolve a conflict?

Pick instructors and past employers who will give a well-rounded account of you as a person and as an employee.

Is there a magic number of references?

No, there’s not. You should list three to five references, but be prepared with five to eight people as potential references.

What if I don’t have experience?

Let’s say you just finished your career training and you don’t have full-time job experience. That’s okay. Don’t sweat it. Find references to highlight qualities and skills that transcend a specific field. These can come from an instructor or a mentor.

How should I start?

  1. Make the ask. Reach out in person or by phone to show sincerity and gratitude for their time and effort.
  2. Prep your references. Give them a copy of your resume, a job description, and possibly talking points to remind them who you are and what you did for their organization.
  3. Follow up. If they’re comfortable, follow up with a face-to-face meeting or phone call to ask how things went.
  4. Thank them. Send a note, small gift, or take them out for a meal, especially if you land the job.

What is common etiquette for sending job references to a potential employer?

Monster recommends following these guidelines:

  • Never list family members or friends as job references.
  • Give a heads-up to all references before listing them as a contact.
  • With permission, provide multiple points of contact including email, telephone number, and/or mailing address.
  • Never burn bridges with former employers, coworkers, or professors. US News & World Report states that employers can contact mutual connections for information about a prospective hire. You never know who might give you a hidden reference.

So, there you have it—five questions to get you started. Finding the best job references is about planning and anticipating what your employer wants to know and providing the right people to answer their questions. Start now by maintaining strong relationships. You never know—you might need a job reference soon.

Got a question? Don’t be afraid to contact our career services team to learn more.

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