Posted by Brian McCullough
When a job opening asks for references, who should you use? This is a part of the job search process that calls for absolute calculation and cynicism. Use the best, most effective people you know, not necessarily the people you like or are closest to. Listed in order of effectiveness…
- Someone the hiring manager knows.
Like anything else in job search, the most effective connections are personal connections. Getting someone the hiring manager knows to vouch for you can do all the vetting necessary.
- Someone the hiring manager respects.
Another good tactic is to get a reference from someone in the industry the hiring manager might respect or even idolize. If you’re interviewing for a fund management position and you can get a reference from Warren Buffett, you’re likely to be hired just so the manager can bask in the glow of the Oracle.
- Your current boss.
Here’s a really effective reference that you might not always be able to get. If you can get your current or most recent boss to say something like, “Gee, we really hate to see him go, but if we have to lose him, here’s why he’s such a great guy…” that can do wonders.
- Someone in the industry. Even a competitor.
References are meant to do two things: find out if you’re a serial killer; and find out if you can do your job competently. If you have enough of a reputation in the industry to get a recommendation from someone who works in the same field you do, then you’ve gone a long way to answering the second question.
- Any previous boss.
Try to pick the boss that is most likely to sing the praises of your competency and effectiveness. Again, this is just to reassure the hiring manager that you know what you are doing.
- Someone “respectable” in society.
If you’ve got none of the above, your last option is someone who could reasonably be expected to be an upstanding member of society. I’m talking about a teacher, professor, minister, doctor, lawyer, etc. This is likely to be a family friend, but pick the friend who is most likely to be widely known in the community.