By Jim Wong, CPA | September 21, 2016

Picture this: You’ve found your ideal position for the next step in your career and are looking to apply. So, you spend time updating your resume with strong keywords, you add new certifications that you’ve earned, you optimize your LinkedIn profile and are now ready to submit your resume. What are you missing? Well, you need to be sure your references are in order, as well, so that you’re as prepared as can be when you get called in for an interview.

For accounting, finance and IT professionals—along with job seekers in other fields—this is an important step in the job application process that sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This is probably because it can be one of the more challenging tasks. Selecting appropriate and qualified individuals to act as a reference for you, is a process that should be well thought out. Your references will need to speak to your skillsets, qualifications and talents to the best of their ability—and this can be a make or break point in whether or not you’re chosen for the role.

Whether you’re starting out your career, in which case you’d select professors, key administration or club leaders to represent you as references, or you’re a seasoned individual with many professional references, be sure to pick three to five standout people to help you during your job search. I found an article on Forbes that offers good pointers on the process, as well. I’ve summarized them and added a few thoughts of my own. Take a look at How to Select Standout References for Your Job Search below.

1. Choose people who know your work well. 
This step is meant to serve as a reminder to those of you currently in a job search that you should be selecting references who know your work inside and out. In other words, former managers or report-to’s can be some of the best references to select. While you might have made friends at your workplace, that’s not to say that they are the most professional references. Job seekers will be wise to choose people who are familiar with specific projects or tasks, are able to annunciate strong work ethic and are willing to make sure that the hiring manager knows all there is to know about how strong of a candidate you are. This brings me to my next point.

2. Select people who are enthusiastic. 
Choosing an enthusiastic reference can be the difference between a good reference and a great reference. If possible, choose references who are passionate and able to speak highly of you and your skills. It’s important for job seekers to gauge the reference’s level of excitement—if a reference sounds excited to serve as a reference, then include him or her on a reference list. However, if there is hesitation, try finding a different reference. A great reference will be enthusiastic and persuasive, and will help you get that much closer to landing your dream job.

3. Tailor your reference list. 
Much like a cover letter and resume, reference lists should be tailored for the position. If an accounting and finance professional is applying to a Senior Accountant role, he/she should select references who are also in similar roles and can speak properly to the job seeker’s experience as it relates to the role. Rather than selecting a Marketing Director as a reference on an Accounts Payable position, choose someone closer to the role. For example, an Accounting Manager or Supervisor.

4. Ask permission first.
Another important step that goes forgotten is to notify references before writing them down as references. Asking permission is not only a common courtesy, but it also allows references to prepare for a reference call. Further, if your reference knows ahead of time, they’ll be more likely to pick up the phone when a unrecognized number calls—preventing phone tag, or multiple phone calls.

5. Make sure they’re ready to speak to your experience. 
When asking your potential reference for permission, be sure to share the most updated copy of your resume so your reference can brush up on any professional updates you might have obtained. This is especially helpful if you haven’t worked with him/her in a few months or years. Additionally, you should point out specific areas you’d like your reference to highlight about you. This will make it easier for them to know what to say to the hiring manager. Preparing your references for calls from hiring managers is an easy step and one that shouldn’t be ignored—it can benefit you in a big way in the long run!

These are only a few of the ways to select standout references. Do you have other suggestions? Comment below and let us know!

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