When you get to the stage of the hiring process when the interviewer is asking for references, you need to make sure you have the best, most appropriate recommendations possible. You may be able to ace an interview but if your references don't check out, you won't get the job.

The best references are past supervisors, says Bruce Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Limited. Employers want to hear from the people who gave you direction to find out exactly how you work. Colleagues are good but past bosses are great, so be sure those in higher places keep you in their good books. Simply call the person, tell them about the job you have interviewed for, and ask if they will provide you with a reference. Nine times out of ten, they will be happy to do so.

Prepare your references at the start, not at the finish line, says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. You can assemble a diverse group of recommendations and know in advance how they will represent you. Keeping references in mind at your current job will help you in the long run. Just be sure pleasing your employer doesn't distract you from your work, or you may be left with a boss that doesn't really want to give you a reference.

Anticipate a bad reference and defuse, says Cohen. For example, Betsy was the only boss I've had with whom, for some reason, we didn't see eye to eye. Or Betsy and I only worked together for a few months and we never really had the opportunity to get to know each other. In these instances, use former employers, or supervisors above or below Betsy. Even if she is your most recent employer, if she's a bad reference, try to provide others that will be as useful.

Be sure to choose people that can speak of your accomplishments as well as your character. Employers like to see both what you can do and how you can do it.

Select references that not only like you but will speak about you with insight, enthusiasm, and knowledge, says Cohen. A reference who is indiscriminate or who rambles, no matter how positive, will not represent you in the very best light possible and may even reflect poorly on you. Choosing references shows your judgment, so be sure to choose individuals that know you well and can represent you in a positive light.

It's also important to keep in touch with your references over time. A former colleague listed me as a reference, says Hurwitz. When I got the call, I had no idea who the caller was phoning about. I had worked with the woman over ten years ago. She married and I didn't know her by her married name. Needless to say, the conversation didn't go well.

With the growth of LinkedIn, many people are using social connections as references. The trick to using the site correctly is by treating these people the same way you treat your other references: keep in touch and be sure they will represent you well. Also, judge the employer to predict whether or not a LinkedIn reference will be seen as creative or silly.

Hurwitz says he receives requests for endorsements on LinkedIn all the time. It's always the same thing: if you recommend or endorse me, I'll do the same for you. I do not know any of these people. It's a game.

No matter the method, just be sure you trust the people you list as references. It can be the difference between landing a job or continuing the job hunt.

Quick reference reminders

  • Trust your references: they represent you!
  • Know who will give a good or bad recommendation
  • Keep in touch with all your references over time
  • Judge will employers will appreciate innovative recommendations from LinkedIn

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