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Five simple tips for cultivating job references

You’ve applied for your dream job, impressed the employer with your resumé, dazzled the hiring manager at the interview, and are now one step away to getting an offer. All that’s left is for the company to check in with your references—the people who will vouch for you as a qualified employee, co-worker, or peer.

It can be hard to identify the best people to speak on your behalf, so we turned to Sabrina Woods, associate director of Northeastern’s career development office. Here, Woods offers  five tips for choosing your references—and then making the most of them.

Whom to ask

Your former managers from past co-ops or internships are great options for your first choice. It’s best if you report to that person, but as additional references, you could include co-workers with whom you work closely. You want to make sure you pick individuals who know you well and can speak clearly and positively about your strengths and past contributions.

While co-op and internship supervisors are ideal, you can also consider managers from part-time and volunteer jobs. If you haven’t had very many co-ops or part-time jobs, you can also consider asking professors.

How to ask

You could ask via email or phone. It’s great to express how much you would appreciate having them as a reference. Typically, they’ll need to answer a few questions over the phone about you. If it has been several years since you worked with them, you’ll want to remind them when you worked for them and what kinds of tasks and projects you did.

Best practices

Getting asked for a list of references could happen before, during, or after an interview. So you’ll want to get them in order at the beginning of your job search.

After you’ve been asked for a list of references, you’ll want to email all your references (who have already agreed to vouch for you) to let them know they might be getting a call from the hiring employer. It’s a good idea to send your references an up-to-date version of your resumé  as well as a copy of the job description. You could also include any pertinent questions that came up during the interview. If you can let your references know what aspects of the job are most important, they can address those areas when giving the reference.

What to include on your reference sheet

You can use the “header” from your resumé so your contact information is at the top. Then write the word “References” below that. List three to four references, including every person’s job title, employer, and company address as well as his or her phone number and email address.
Keep references up-to-date and express your gratitude

Continue to keep your references informed about additional interviews and where you are in the job-hunting process. After you land a position, you’ll want to thank them for being a reference and share your good news.

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