Understanding the mechanics of an applicant and how they will relate to their potential work colleagues can be gleaned from the referees they list on their resume. Speaking with a nominated referee is often one of the most insightful and revealing actions an interviewer can undertake. However if an applicant is not deliberate about their choice of referees, it may cost them a new job role.

A professional referee is the preferred type of reference. They can speak to your day-to-day working habits and capabilities. It is preferential to select a peer who is more senior in their role and from your most recent place of employment. This can be problematic if you do not want your employer to be aware of your intention to leave. In a small business where the organisational structure is often flat, your direct reporting manager may actually be the owner of the business. In a recent case I engaged a candidate whose manager was often absent from the office and while the manager was aware of the results of the candidates undertakings, they were unaware of how he operated and conducted himself to achieve these results. It was necessary for him to rely upon a colleague of equal standing to testify to his work processes and competencies.

When choosing a referee, and this may seem obvious, you want to choose someone who holds you in high regard and with whom you have a good rapport. And seek their permission before sharing their details with a potential employer. It is etiquette to do so. You don’t want your referee to be surprised and deliver their recommendation of you on the run. After all they will be asked to provide a detailed account of you. Giving them time to think about your achievements and how they can best highlight these will only serve you well in cementing the position you are seeking. So ensure you have their correct contact details and keep in touch with them regarding your job search movements. An excellent referee may include;

  • Current colleagues
  • Direct managers or team leaders from previous positions
  • Clients or suppliers that you do business with on a regular basis
  • Academic or sport instructors

Employers want to speak directly to a referee, preferably two or three, who can reinforce what you have claimed in your resume is accurate. If you are new to the workforce and lacking in professional referee options, perhaps you have a sports or music coach that can speak to your dedication, commitment to a goal, ability to work in a team and leadership qualities. Family members and friends are not ideal.

References are generally delivered verbally. The written reference is now something of the past. A verbal reference offers greater value to the inquiring party too as not only are they able to probe for further information, but can gain further insight into the applicant by the tone used, the information that may or may not be forthcoming, and of course a hesitation in responding to a question, or rather the carefully chosen words in delivering a response. Reading between the lines may reveal a red flag. Don’t be fooled. There is such a thing as a bad referee.

Some positions require character referees. If this is a mandate, you will want to select someone who has known you for at least six months, but preferably 12 months or more. Having spent time socialising with them will add strength and conviction to their ability to validate your character as being an asset to any workforce.

Having the right set of referees for the job you have applied for is important as it may be the last obstacle that you must leap before being offered the job. Don’t be inclined to rely upon a glowing resume and an impressive interview. Scroll carefully through your rolodex because an endorsement from an unbiased third party is where the job will often be won or lost. A great referee holds much power and sway, thus is not to be underestimated. And if you are successful in gaining the position, remember to thank your referees for the role they played in furthering your career.

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