When you are putting a job application together, make sure you choose your referees carefully because they could make or break your chances of success.
Work-related references are generally more potent than personal ones since they can attest to the way you operate and what you are capable of. It's best to choose someone who is senior to you, rather than a peer, but make sure the person you choose is someone you have worked closely with. Choosing from your most recent place of employment is ideal – however this can be problematic if you don't want your current employer to know you are looking to move on. Most interviewers understand if a reference can't be provided from where you are currently working, but try to make your choice as up to date as possible.
It goes without saying, but don't even think about choosing a referee who might have doubts about your ability and potential. Choose the people who have seen you at your best and can give first-hand accounts of the success you have had on various projects and endeavours.
When putting together your list of referees, it's good to choose people from a few different areas of your life – professional, academic and personal. However, unless a potential employer asks for a personal reference it's best to stick to professional and academic contacts. If you are a recent graduate, ask one of your favourite lecturers who knows you and your work well. If you have just left school, ask the principal (if that person knows who you are – and you were a good student!) or the teacher of your best subject. For your personal reference, try to choose someone who has a good standing in the community – perhaps a teacher, doctor, minister of religion or someone who holds a position of office (for example, a member of a committee or governing body).
Just as you design your resume and cover letter to target different jobs, give the same level of consideration to your choice of referees. Some people might work better for different positions. For example, if a job requires the ability to supervise, choose references who can attest to your management skills. Also, if you are applying for a number of jobs, it's nice to share the load.
The way your referee communicates will reflect on you – good or bad. So even if they know your work and think highly of you, it won't be effectively relayed if they have a monotone voice, are full of ums and ahs, don't have a good phone manner or, if they give a written reference, can't spell and use correct grammar. Choose people who you know can communicate well and have the ability to sell you.
Get in touch with the people you would like to be your referees and politely ask them if they would be happy to give you a reference if required. If you don't do this and they get a cold-call from one of your prospective employers, not only will they be less than impressed but also they may not be able to give you the rap you deserve. And don't just ask once and then think that person is fair game forever. Let them know every time someone may be getting in touch.
Give your chosen referees some background on the job you are applying for: the job title, what you will be doing and the attributes the employer is looking for. Also politely remind them of the projects you have worked on and your accomplishments so they will be well prepared. It can also be helpful to give your referees an up-to-date copy of your resume.
Potential employers will want to know who they are contacting. Be sure you supply your referees' full names, phone numbers and email addresses, position titles, how you know them, and how long you have known them. On your resume, it's good to write that your referees are available upon request. That means you can keep track of who will be contacting them.
Write a thankyou note or phone your referees to let them know the outcome of your job search. This is just common courtesy, but it will also mean they will be more likely to help you out again if need be.