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Making the most of your references for career success

Personal recommendations are among the most powerful influences on employers’ hiring decisions. One survey found that after the interview and your CV, references have the biggest impact on whether you get the job.

But many of us treat references as an afterthought, perhaps assuming that they rarely get checked. In some cases, your past employers play it safe by only providing factual references with the dates you worked for them.

Even where that’s the case, you can still seek personal recommendations from people in your field or gather LinkedIn endorsements. You might also negotiate an agreed-upon reference. Either way, here’s what employers want to see.


Promote the right qualities

A reference has to be truthful, but you also want it to be effective. The best referees can speak to the qualities that employers most want. A survey of 12,800 references by SkillSurvey, suggested some of the most popular attributes in successful references.

Referees who can attest to your commitment or dedication are vital: that was mentioned in more than one in five references. The next most important were reliability, teamwork, attention to detail and attitude. Surprisingly, many also mentioned areas for improvement: confidence, communication and experience were the most frequently cited.


Prep your referees

When you’ve identified referees who can speak to your best qualities, get in touch, explaining the role you’re applying for.

“Help them prepare to give a great reference on your behalf by letting them know which position you’re applying for and what skills the potential employer seems to value based on the job listing,” advises careers website Indeed.

They also advise speaking with your potential reference ahead of time, so you can assess their willingness and comfort in endorsing your work. This conversation helps determine if they are actually supportive or if you need to consider selecting someone else who may provide a more positive and fitting reference.


Format your reference list

If you’ve done your homework, you should have a range of referees who can highlight key aspects of your career and your qualities as an employee. So when you hand over a list of references, include details about which of your attributes they are ready to discuss.

“When you offer a reference list at the conclusion of an interview in a highly professional format, it can create a proactive and favourable impression,” says Jeff Shane, president of Allison & Taylor, a reference-checking firm. And it means they’ll spend more time talking about your best qualities.


Don’t forget the follow up

Whether you’re successful or not, let your referee know with a note of thanks. It’s only polite and you might be calling on their patience and good opinion again soon.

“You just want people to know that their time and their input was worth something to you,” says J.T. O’Donnell, CEO of online career support company Work It Daily. Maintaining good relations is important whenever you make the next step in your career.


Integrating references into your personal branding

In today’s digital age, your personal brand extends far beyond a resume or cover letter. Effectively integrating your references into your personal branding strategy can do wonders for your professional visibility and credibility.

By linking glowing recommendations and endorsements directly on platforms like LinkedIn, you not only make these accolades more accessible to potential employers but also demonstrate your professional relationships and the high regard in which you are held.

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