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Posted by Eric Murphy, Senior Recruiter, Professional Search Division

References are an important part of any job search. Although a resume summarizes your skills and accomplishments, a reference validates it. A good reference will give a prospective employer a good feel for the those soft skills that a resume simply cannot effectively capture. Such skills as:

· Your leadership presence and potential
· Your coaching and mentoring ability
· Your personality and behaviors
· How well you work on a team and with managers or customers
· Your work ethic and commitment to getting results
· Your bottom-line value to an organization
· Your commitment to complete and accurate work
· How quickly you pick things up, how fast you learn
· How well you think outside the box, create or improve processes or people

You can SAY all these things on a resume or in an interview, but a well-chosen reference will make them real. When choosing your references, here are a few tips:

1. Choose a reference that you trust. In the case of a confidential search while you are still working, it is critical you choose a reference that will not blow your cover. As a matter of course, reputable recruiting firms check references, typically well before you get an offer, so it is important you choose someone you trust.

2. Choose a reference that will give honest feedback on your performance. The reality is, nobody is perfect. When a reference tells me there are no areas on which the candidate could improve; I smell something funny. It’s OK, nobody’s perfect, just give me some honest feedback! I need to know any situations that may create a bad skills fit for the candidate in the position or company I am representing.

3. Choose at least one reference to which you reported. References that have the best input into your professional performance are those to which you reported. Peers, typically, do not have very insightful feedback into your actual performance. If you truly want to show off how good you are, select a reference that managed you; preferably more than one. And the more recent, the better.

Make sure you call your reference and ask their permission to use them as a reference. When I call references and they are blind-sided, it is rarely well thought out or helpful feedback.

Finally, never post your reference’s names and contact information on a job board or public site, especially if they are unaware you are doing so. That may be the last reference they ever give you. Treat them with respect and professionalism.

If you want to give a future employer a great reason to hire you, choose your references carefully; they may make or break an opportunity for you.

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