A potential employer will usually only check references after the interview. The goal in contacting your referees, also called references, is to check the skills, ability levels, and responsibilities you described during the interview. For this reason, it is very important to carefully consider who you will list as a reference and who you will ask to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf or who will be ready to receive a phone call from a hiring manager. Your referees will either be asked to answer a phone or to provide a written letter.
How many referees do you need? Two to four referees should be sufficient. Referees are people you have worked with for at least a few months, the longer the better, and who have a clear idea about your professional skills and accomplishments. Referees cannot be friends or family members because of the impossibility to stay objective. If you only have non U.S. professional referees, you can also a teacher, volunteer colleagues, or someone else who has known a semi-professional role to serve as a referee. If you do not want your current employer to know that you are looking for another job, then give the name of a former supervisor..
Work as a team with your referee. Always confirm that someone is willing to serve as a reference before you provide their names to a prospective employer. If you do not ask, they may not remember who you are, what you did and may give a vague recommendation. If you ask, they may be flattered and will happily support your efforts. This will increase the likelihood of them giving you a strong reference. You should provide your referee with a copy of your resume and the job description so that they can think what they will say about you.
Potential questions for your referee. Here is a non-exhaustive list of questions that may be asked:
What were his/her duties and responsibilities?
What were her/his most significant accomplishments?
How many people were under his/her responsibility?
Did s/he receive any promotions or awards?
What was her/his attitude toward an unexpected load of work to be submitted for the following day?
Did s/he get along with her teammates?
What were his/her job strengths?
In which area does s/he need improvement?
Recommendation letters. These are written separately from your resume and cover etter. They are given to the interviewer upon his/her request, after the job interview. They should include each person's name, his/her title, address, phone number, and the company's name.
When asking for a letter of recommendation, we encourage you to give your referee your resume, and remind him/her of the projects/accomplishments you worked on together so that the recommendation letter will match with the job you are applying for.
Be the strongest applicant. When you are in competition with another candidate and the interviewer cannot make up his/her mind because both candidates have the requested qualifications, then the letters of recommendation can make all the difference.
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