By Hallie Crawford

U.S. News, June 26, 2018 —

Learn the steps to ensure you have an outstanding reference list.

If you are a job seeker, you want to make the best impression possible. Not only do you want to impress a hiring manager with your resume and in your interview, but you want to make sure that your references will also sing your praises. Studies show that hiring managers have taken job candidates out of the running after checking their references. How can you make sure that your references will help you land the job?

First of all, determine with whom a hiring manager will want to speak. Remember that while personal references provide some value, a hiring manager really wants to talk to someone who knows your work ethic and will speak to your job performance. This means that your list of references should include your current or former boss and your current or former co-workers.

Use the right approach. When choosing possible references to put on your reference list, you need to approach them in the right way. Don’t limit yourself to simply asking if they would be willing to provide a reference for you and assume it will be a positive one. A less-than-stellar reference can kill your chances of getting the position you want. Instead, change your approach. It will require a bit more homework on your end, but it has a better payoff.

When you are compiling a list of possible references, it’s helpful if you keep an up-to-date accomplishments document for this step. You can easily look back and see which projects or tasks you feel would demonstrate how you fit the job description. Then, think back to who your supervisor was at the time or which co-workers you worked with who could also vouch for you. If you think they would give you a positive reference, write them down.

Once you have compiled your list, pick your top five reference candidates. Now you need to confirm that they actually will give you a positive reference. If you still work at the same organization, make an appointment to speak with them privately. If you no longer work together, schedule a phone call. Let them know you appreciate the work you have done together and explain you are pursuing an exciting job opportunity. Then explain that in order to demonstrate a certain strength the job requires, you had thought of the time when you worked on a certain project together. To refresh their memory, try: “The job position I am interviewing for requires strong analytical skills. This made me think about the project we worked on together last year where we analyzed X and were able to reach a successful conclusion with a 10 percent increase in sales. Do you remember how hard we worked?”

Keep track of their response. Do they immediately respond with more details about the project in an excited way? Do they seem indifferent? Do they seem to not remember at all? This will help you make a judgment call about the strength of this reference.

Continue with: “If you would be willing, I would love to provide you as a reference to talk more about this project. Would you be able to give me a positive reference if the company contacts you?”

Again, gauge their response. Did they say yes immediately? Did they have to pause to think about it? Do they not seem very excited about being a reference?

Even if they say yes, if they didn’t seem excited, or if you are unsure that their reference would be amazing, don’t include them on your final list. Keep moving through your list of possible references following the same format. Keep in mind that this exercise is best done in person or over the phone for you to gauge their immediate reactions. It’s harder to gauge emotions over a chat or email. You may also find it helpful to compile different reference lists depending on the job description.

Finally, don’t take it personally if you don’t get the reaction you expected. You have been analyzing past experiences as part of the process to land a job, so a past project that may be really important for your skill set isn’t as important for your manager or co-worker. Your reference list is short and therefore it’s important to know that all of your references will provide excellent commentary on your abilities. It’s better to know this in advance instead of having an indifferent reference on your list.