Lake Superior State University
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Obtaining Effective References

Background checks are extremely important in making the decision to hire or not hire a prospective employee. Most employers will request the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or more individuals who can provide background information on the prospective employee. Some professional fields will require written letters of recommendation.

As a prospective employee, you must be certain the references you select will support your candidacy for the job. The following material offers guidelines to utilize in obtaining effective verbal and written references.

A. Whom should I ask to serve as a reference for me?

In general, ask individuals who have had extensive opportunity to observe your performance of the skills necessary to be successful at the job you are seeking. Current supervisors and co-workers, former employers, professors, coaches, group or club advisers are excellent choices for references. Recommendations provided by relatives, friends, and pastors are usually less effective as these recommendations tend to center on "character" rather than job skills.
B. How do I approach a person to obtain a reference?

-Make a list of the persons you would like to ask to serve as your references.

-Call each potential reference to schedule a time you can meet. The meeting has several purposes:
1) to update the person regarding what you have accomplished
2) to request verbal feedback as to what the potential reference believes are your strengths and weaknesses
3) to inform the potential reference of the type of work you are seeking

-After the meeting, you will need to determine if you want to ask the person to serve as one of your references. Ask yourself, "Will this person strongly enhance my ability to secure the job I am seeking?"

-Send a thank you card to the person regardless of whether you now ask him/her to serve as your reference.
C. After selecting my references, how do I assist them in providing the best recommendation?

-Provide each reference with a copy of your current resume.

-Ask each reference to specifically write or speak about two or three skills that you possess. Ask them to use an anecdotal approach. Each reference can cover different skills. By using this method of reference focusing, potential employers receive much more detail regarding your qualifications.

-Provide a list of potential employers who may be contacting the reference.

-If written recommendations are required, provide deadlines. Emphasize how vital it is that the letter of recommendation be received prior to the deadline. You should allow reference writers at least two weeks notice. You may choose to provide stamped and addressed envelopes to the references.
D. Final comments.

1. Update your references on a yearly basis.

2. After you receive and accept a job offer, inform your references. Call or write to thank each reference.

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