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You might think that having to provide job references when you apply for a job is a dated practice, but believe it or not, there are plenty of good companies out there who still check job references during the final stage of the hiring process.
In order to learn more about you, your work experience, and whether or not you lied during your interviews you’ll fit in with the new company’s culture, recruiters often ask candidates to submit both personal and professional* job references.
Most of the time a recruiter (or in some instances a hiring manager) will only call references for their top two candidates, so if you’ve gotten to this stage of the hiring process, things are looking good.
Unfortunately, this final step is one that you don’t have much control over. Because you won’t be able to listen to the conversation, it’s imperative that you pick job references that you trust. After all, your reputation and potentially your career are on the line.
Here are 5 tips for choosing great job references that will help you land a job offer.

1. Pick people you like.

It seems obvious, but it’s worth noting that you and your reference should be friends in some capacity. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should have some sort of rapport. And, I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway…you must have worked with this person side-by-side, on projects, together, for more than 6 months. They cannot be someone you knew from the happy hour clique that worked at the same company, but that you never worked with.

2. Ask them to be a job reference for you.

Do not assume that anyone owes you anything. They don’t. But most people are willing to help you out if you ask them. No one likes a surprise with a task assigned to it, so just shoot the person you have in mind a quick note explaining that you’re a finalist for a position and the next step is a reference check. Then ask if they’d be willing to provide a reference for you. If they say yes, be sure to ask them for their current email address, phone number, job title and company. You’ll need all of that information when you’re asked by the recruiter to provide your job references.

3. Arm your job references with information.

Give them the job description, tell them what the new company does, and let them know if there are any qualifications or experiences they should mention. It’s perfectly within reason to prep your reference on the key things they should focus on when talking about you. They will choose what to say and what examples to give, but you should give them a starting point.

4. Thank your job references in a meaningful way.

If your contact agrees to be your job reference and they’ve spoken with your potential employer, you absolutely must show them your gratitude with a token of appreciation. Maybe you buy them a beer, or maybe you send them a gift card. My favorite way to thank someone is to send them a Starbucks gift card via email. It’s usually a surprise (How many people send you money via email?) and they don’t have to worry about keeping track of the card. Whatever you choose, make sure that it’s special and sincere.

5. Always offer to return the favor.

When someone does you a solid like giving you a great job reference, you must offer to return the favor. They took time out of their day just to say wonderful things about you. That’s going above and beyond for you. And if you feel like maybe that wasn’t much of a sacrifice for them, just remember that what goes around comes around, so keep your karma positive.

The bottom line on job references is that as your career path twists and turns, always be sure take the time to cultivate great relationships with your coworkers. You never know when you’re going to need them to have your back.
*One more thing about personal versus professional job references. Usually a company will not ask for more than three references, and often times they ask for a mix of personal and professional. If you have the choice, always submit more professional job references than personal. You want to make a great impression on this new company and the hiring manager. If you submit mostly personal job references it will raise a red flag. The hiring manager may think that there is something in your work history you think is worth hiding, or that you’re not an easy person to work with if you can’t find anyone to vouch for you. Even if that’s not true, that may be the impression you’re giving by not including more professional references.