12.0   What is a Good Reference and What Should You Give Your References?

Your references are one of your most important assets in the job search. The comments of a good reference can spur an employer into selecting you over other candidates. The comments of a bad reference can nix the offer in an instant.

If you are planning to interview a job in the near future it is time to get your references lined up! You will need three to five professional references. They need to be good references who will sing your praises.

To begin with, you will want to create a document that uses the header from your resume. Just below your resume header (that includes your name, phone, and email), the reference page will be titled "References" and will have two columns. One column will have the name, title, organization, phone, and email address of each of your references and it will appear as you would address an envelope. The second column will have a description of how you know the person. For example: Manager; Direct Report; Indirect Report; Supervisor on bridge project; Sr. Project Professor; Co-team member on a project; Co-worker at Air Resources, Inc.

A good professional reference is a person you ask, and who agrees, to allow you to use their name as a person who can be called upon to speak about your good professional qualities. Contact anyone you plan to use and ask if they would be willing to let you use them as a reference. Don't use anyone who you don't ask first and make sure that they will say only good things about you.

For recent grads - people who qualify to give you a good reference:
  1. A professor who you have gotten a good grade from
  2. A former or current employer or supervisor who knows the quality of your work
  3. A co-worker who likes working with you
  4. A sr. project co-team member (who doesn't hate you yet...)
For experienced candidates - people who qualify to give you a good reference:
  1. Co-workers who like you and recognize the quality of your work
  2. People who you have worked on team projects with
  3. A person who reports to you or reported to you who can attest to what a great boss you are
  4. Former or current customers who appreciate (love) your work
Do not use:
  1. People who don't know you professionally - family members, friends, clergy
  2. People you work with who cannot be trusted to keep the secret that you are looking for a new job
Email all of your references enough information for them to give you a great reference:
  1. A current resume
  2. The name of the company and a job description for the position you are applying for 
  3. Or a list of the types of positions for which you are applying
  4. A list of your strengths
  5. A list of your interests
  6. A list of the companies that may be contacting them
  7. A picture of yourself - if it is a forgetful professor...
References need to have most or all of these things in order to give you a good reference. Some calls for references come months or years later when you are all but forgotten.

Employers will ask you for references and they will call! Keep in touch with your references and keep them posted on your progress. Send chatty email letting them know that you are optimistic about your job search progress and let them know that you appreciate their willingness to give you a good reference. You will be glad you did!