Health benefits as an advantage of employment are increasingly becoming a priority for jobseekers, particularly as elected officials wrestle with the topic.  In fact, compensation – including health care – is traditionally thought of as one of the five key questions when making smart decisions about job offers!

But with so many people coming back into the workforce – whether pressured by a need to find healthcare or other factors – how can you make sure you land that coveted position? One large factor, according to JEVS Career Strategies Job Developer Gary Lachow, is the quality (and preparedness) of your references!

Q. Why are our job references so important?

A. References provide valuable information to your prospective employer. Now, it’s important to note that people confuse references and employment verification – which is merely asking whether or not you worked somewhere and for how long. References are more about your character, and increasingly, about assessing your abilities not only to perform the job, but function properly in your social role.

Q. But this seems like something we’ve heard before. Why does it matter now?

A. It matters now because, recently, we’ve seen more than 150 people apply for the same position on a job board. There are suddenly many reasons for people who haven’t previously been engaged in a job search to get back in the game. And you’re doing a lot of work to make your resume perfect – maybe you’ve even had a career coach or advisor review it, or taken advantage of a workshop. Then, you’ve followed-up, and prepared carefully for an interview, tailoring your responses to the job. And then, just when it’s make-or-break…we’ve seen some fatal errors at the reference point. Sometimes, it really is a tie – and it comes down to whose references are most responsive, and who can speak more to the candidate’s qualifications for the job.

Q. Okay, first things first. References on a resume?

A. No. We’d recommend references on a second sheet of paper. First, it keeps your resume short and focused. Job applications will, in most cases, clearly lay out whether or not references are required. Bring that separate sheet of paper to your in-person interview and give it upon request.

Q. So what are some of the bigger mistakes that you’ve heard about?

A. Honestly, employers have told us of situations where the references provided didn’t have the correct phone number or contact information. That’s the most basic mistake. We’ve also been told that sometimes the references given weren’t unique enough or able to provide a valuable employment perspective – most career advisors will recommend a supervisor, a colleague, maybe someone who reported to you – rather than a family member, friend or business associate. Maybe the references forgot that you even asked them to be a reference, and so they weren’t prepared or didn’t take the call!

“Your references need to be coached.”

When you’re far along in the hiring process, you should call a reference to let them know the specifics of the job, so that they can focus their praise on areas related to the job you want. You want people to be able to reinforce what’s on your resume, of course, but also to build on other skills that you have (e.g. your creativity or your analytical experience). Generally, questions asked won’t be, “Is this candidate creative,” but more along the line of “Tell me what impressed you about this person.”

You may even want to coordinate between your references – if one person can speak to your creativity, perhaps another person can speak to your focus on details. Coaching in this sense can help give your new employer a fuller view of your many talents and attributes.

Q. Got it. So how do I follow up? Should I?

A. Absolutely. You want to keep in contact with your references, letting them know whether you got the job or not, and thanking them. After all, references are part of relationship-building, which is part of networking…and you never know, you may be able to provide the same assistance down the line!


If you are interested in learning how JEVS Career Strategies can help individuals get to the next stage in their careers or job search…

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Posted in Blog JEVS Program: Career Strategies