When searching for a new job, we often just focus on what we will say to employers about our skills and experience. We practice answers to questions such as "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?"
Employers understand that you've practiced these responses, and expect you to offer reasoned answers. They won't really learn anything earth-shattering from these responses, so they may look elsewhere for real insights into your talents and abilities. This usually leads them to ask for references.
Unfortunately, this is where many job seekers mess up. They haven't really prepared the people who will speak for them, and that can lead to such lackluster or unhelpful recommendations that their job chances may be diminished.
You should always put as much time into preparing your references as you do any other part of your job search. Your references will appreciate it (they're busy people and may not remember all of your stellar qualities) and will ensure that a hiring manager hears a flattering account about you.
Here are some things to think about:
- Get specific. Think about how a reference can showcase skills most important to a particular employer, whether it's resolving customer disputes, coming up with new ideas for products or being great at quality control. Remind your references of where you showed such skills -- they'll appreciate not having to dig through their own memories.
- Cast a wide net. References don't have to just be former employers or teachers. If your pastor or rabbi has worked closely with you on a spring break project, for example, then think about having him or her write a letter outlining your ability to work collaboratively. In addition, the more diversity you have in your references, the better able you will be to offer the right reference for various employers or jobs.
- Offer a template. If you think your reference is fine with recommending you -- but uncomfortable in writing a recommendation letter -- offer a template or at least relevant talking points.