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Prepping Your References

At Forbes.com this week, Susan Adams provides tips on how to get your references to provide glowing accounts of your performance. As we pointed out last October, more employers today use the reference-checking process to learn all they can about potential hires, so you should not leave references to chance.

The first rule, Adams says, is to list as a reference people you know for certain will say positive things about you. Adams quotes a human-resources manager who says “Hiring managers expect a rave,” so anything less than a completely favorable report will raise questions. And references should spell out specific examples of your contributions and not just generalities. A career coach told Adams that some prospects send their references bullet-point lists of their accomplishments, which references can then read back to employers.

A related tip: Use what you’ve learned about the employer to brief your references. Another career coach interviewed by Adams recommends asking the hiring manager in the interview to describe the strengths of the previous person in this job. You can then ask your references to describe your attributes in similar terms.

Still another suggestion: Get references representing different types of relationships with previous employers. This “360-degree set,” as it is called in the article, should include a supervisor, a colleague, and, if you had supervisory responsibilities, someone who reported to you.

Adams also addresses the sensitive topic of references at an employer you left under less-than-ideal circumstances. You run the risk of tainting your references if you leave a company with guns blazing, Adams says. So when you’re heading out, keep your mouth shut. Calm down, let some time pass, then go back and find someone who can give you a good word.