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When applying for jobs, it is very easy to focus so much on the cover letter, resume and potential interview that you forget to work on one major ticket item—your references! References play a big role when it comes to winning over a potential interviewer. They could literally be the deciding factor between you and another candidate. So how do you make sure your references are in working order? WorkSource has some tips for references you should NOT be using.

Avoid the “Unaware” Reference

When it comes time to give your references, never ever use a reference you haven’t notified ahead of time. If you list former bosses on your reference list and they are unaware of it, you risk them being taken by surprise, and possibly giving a so-so or unstable recommendation. Always ask for permission to use someone as a reference, and give them as much information about the jobs you’re applying for as possible.

Avoid the “No Clue” Reference

The “no clue” reference is a reference that doesn’t remember who you are or remembers the name but not what you did. You may be surprised to know that many job candidates use references that are ten years old or older. If you use a boss from ten years ago, potential employers might wonder why you don’t have anyone more recent who can vouch for your skills. You also take the risk of old bosses no longer being with the company you used to work for, which then reflects poorly on you as it shows you might not be taking the interview seriously. If you do use an old boss, make sure it’s someone you still communicate with; who knows what you’ve been up to recently or who can speak to past and current accomplishments. It’s also wise to mix old with more recent references to send along, and always make sure they remember who you are.

Avoid the “Unprepared” Reference

Let’s say you’ve called some contacts and left voicemails for them that you are using them for references, but that’s all you tell them. If you haven’t followed up with them or given them insight into who they might be speaking with, then you’re leaving your old commandants unprepared. It’s important to have your references know a little about the position you’ve applied for so they can discuss your relevant skills that apply to that job and provide you with the strongest possible reference. Applying for a variety of positions without letting your references know which positions they may get called upon is tantamount to automatically not getting a job offer.

There are some key points to remember before sending along any references. First, it is not necessary to put “references upon request” on your resume. Leave that space for strong skill sets and extra-curricular activities. It’s already a given that references will be asked for, there is no need to state it on a resume. Second, never provide references without being asked for them. Only give references to employers who are serious about hiring you. Third, keep reference lists to three—maybe four. A reference list that is too short or too long reflects badly on you. The most comfortable number for most employers is three references. If any employers wants more, they will ask you.

WorkSource, a WRC-certified premier staffing agency, is committed to quality and service. Our resident staffing experts can guide you through the process of job hunting. Contact our team at WorkSource today.

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