Making the right choice with your references

You might think you're onto a winner by putting a great reference on your CV.  All the potential employer needs to do is give them a call and then the job's in the bag. But what you might not be aware of is your great reference is hiding behind a corporate policy that refers enquiries to the company's personnel department.

Even if they are only following orders, they're waving a big red flag in front of a prospective employer who is left thinking, "If you've done a good job, why wouldn't your references be willing to say so?"

So what can you do to make sure your references will say the right things about you?

Firstly, choose your references carefully. Think carefully about who to put on your CV. Your references should be people with whom you've actually worked on a daily basis within the last five to seven years. They should be people who know you and are familiar with your job performance. But more importantly, they should be willing to talk to prospective employers when they call.

It is also good practice to get permission from those you hope to list as references. Not only is it the courteous thing to do, but it will also help ensure they will talk to a prospective employer as they will be expecting the call.

You also want to choose someone who will be honest and not necessarily just say good things. None of us are perfect and for a reference to suggest that you were the best employee they've ever had -- with no weaknesses at all -- would be a disservice to you for a number of reasons.

First, you don't want your references to overstate your skills and abilities in an attempt to help you get a job for which you're not adequately qualified. Second, an honest assessment of your present skills and abilities, as well as areas for improvement, is far better for you and the prospective employer in the long run. Third, being hired to do a job for which you lack experience, skills or training -- and at which you fail -- will be far more damaging to your career than accepting a job that is right for you in terms of where you are on your career path.

The best way to insure your references can honestly say good things about you is to perform well on the job. While that may seem obvious, doing a good job for every employer you work for and moving up the ladder is ultimately how successful people reach their career goals.