- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

Q: I am preparing to enter the job market after many years in the same position and have a question about references. Are they as important as some people say, or do potential employers just do background checks and check previous employers? And, if I need references, should they be limited to professional or include personal friends? — T.M., San Francisco, Calif.

A: Good questions. Yes, employers do background checks and check previous employers and often ask for references. According to Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University, “References are still an expected part of the job search process. Employers will ask for references, and they will check them. These days most document the checking of references.”

I recommend from five to seven references, with a mix of professional and personal, and, of course, only individuals who will have nice things to say about you.

Here are more tips:

• Get permission from each reference, and ask whether they prefer contacts by e-mail, telephone, or mail.

• List all of your references, with title if professional, along with their contact information, in a format similar to your resume, but separate. Do not include references in your resume.

• Present your references if asked by an interviewer or potential employer.

• Notify each reference when you have given your list of references to an employer. Then, as Ms. Sarikas says, “Let them know the employer, the position you have applied for, and any critical skills you want them to stress.”

• Ask each reference to give you feedback if they are called so that you know how employers are thinking.

• Return the favor to references with thank you notes or lunch if you get a good job.

If there is any kind of problem with an ex-supervisor, do not list that person as a reference or refer to them in an application. When potential employers check previous employers, they are almost always referred to human resources, who give basic dates of employment and position. It is unlikely that a previous supervisor will trash you if you don’t supply that person’s name.

If you already have a list of references, double check to make sure all information is current.

• Marvin Walberg is a job search coach. Contact him at [email protected], marvinwalberg.blogspot.com, or PO Box 43056, Birmingham, AL 35243.


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