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If possible, references shouldn't be provided prior to an interview, but during an interview or immediately following, for two key reasons:
You want an opportunity to learn the full criteria of the position (what your responsibilities will entail) so that you can determine whether or not this is a position you want to continue to pursue. There's no good reason to have your references contacted needlessly.
Having an opportunity to contact and communicate with your references – hopefully, before the interviewer calls them – enables you to give them a heads up and share important information regarding the position and any key criteria learned during the interview. A prepared reference is a better reference.
For example, if the interview situation reveals that "problem solving" is a critical skill necessary to the position you're targeting, a forewarned reference will know to reference your "problem solving" abilities, including offering specific examples.
Reference Letters versus Reference Lists
Written references (or reference letters) provide a permanent record of your contributions and achievements from a specific period of time, written from another person's perspective (previous employer, colleague, client, supervisor, mentor, etc.). A written reference often provides the strongest recommendation, as it's usually created while events are still fresh in the writer's memory. See more on Letters of Recommendation.
However, an interviewer is also going to want an opportunity to speak with your references directly. This type of contact gives the interviewer an opportunity to ask specific questions relevant to the position and company being targeted. It also gives the interviewer a chance to validate the reliability of the reference's comments.
This process will require you to provide your interviewer with a list of references, or a "reference sheet." (Example - PDF file.)
It’s always best to have both: written references (with current contact information, if possible) and a list of references that your interview may contact in person, at his or her convenience.
The time to prepare a reference list is well before the first resume is ever submitted. So if you haven't gotten your references in order, now is the time to do so. You should be able to provide your interviewer with at least three references (preferably five).
Reference List - Putting It Together
The reference list is a separate document that matches your cover letter and resume in format, layout, letterhead style and stationery, and is best provided at the time of interview or shortly thereafter.
Provide plenty of white space between each reference listed so that your interviewer has room to make notes and comments.
Your references can be personal or professional in nature, or a mixture of both, but keep in mind that your interviewer is going to want talk to individuals who are familiar with your work style, work ethics, skills and abilities - as these will relate to the working environment you're targeting.
The basic information to provide for each reference you list:
See an example of it put together - Sample Reference List - PDF file.
Don’t forget to thank your references with a "Thank you" card or letter. You may be using these same individuals as references in the future, and your appreciation of their efforts will go a long way in ensuring positive future recommendations. (Taking a reference out to lunch is not out of order here. Show your gratitude.)
If you're concerned about what previous employers are saying about you, you may want to consider hiring a professional reference checking firm - the same type potential employers hire when checking the background and histories of potential candidates.
Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help!
1st-Writer.com • P.O. Box 1128, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-1128 • (904) 248-2493 • E-mail Sue Campbell
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