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Make your references count

When you are asked for references, it is best to turn to former employers and colleagues whom you trust.

You did it! You made it through the interview with flying colours. Now you must be prepared to give your prospective employer the telephone numbers of two or three people who can be counted on to give you glowing references. If the employer checks your references, he or she is likely to ask fairly general questions, such as what are your strong points, how you function in a group and why you left the organization. Here are three rules of thumb to make sure your references work in your favour.

Avoid exaggeration or outright lies

If you lie in the interview or on your resumé, the people you give as references may contradict you if they are contacted. It is important to give a realistic account of what your responsibilities were at past jobs and how long you were there.

Also bear in mind that in some cases the employer may check your police record (for example, if you are applying to a police department or a daycare). It is not a good idea to keep any skeletons hidden away in the closet.

Choose your references wisely

If possible, don’t use people who won’t seem objective, such a friends or relatives. It is preferable to choose people you worked with at different levels in the recent past, such as a subordinate (if you were a manager), a superior and a co-worker. If you are asked to provide just one reference, go with a former boss; he or she will be perceived as more neutral than a co-worker. If you don’t have much work experience, it’s perfectly OK to give the names of supervisors you had on summer jobs.

Your references should always be people with whom you were on good terms and who seemed to appreciate your work and your team spirit.

Make your goals clear

Do not antagonize your referees by telling them what to say about you. However, it can be a good idea to tell them about the job you are applying for and why you are interested in it. That can motivate them to give the prospective employer a wholehearted recommendation.