By the time a job seeker receives a request to provide contact information for professional references, 95 percent of the interview process has been successfully navigated. It’s exciting. What began with a cover letter and resume and then proceeded to phone interviews and face-to-face interviews with individuals or even panels of people, has now reached the moment of truth. The offer of employment is one critical step away: success or failure will be determined by your references.

Here are three strategies for selecting and prepping professional references to guarantee a successful conclusion to the interview process:

Match References to the Opportunity

Not all job references are created equal, particularly given the unique dynamics of specific jobs. Most qualified job candidates have a host of professional references to choose from, so they should be diligent about selecting the reference who best understands the position and company being pursued. When a prospective employer calls a reference, the conversation is greatly facilitated if the reference has an innate understanding of the company’s product or services, workplace culture, and business objectives.

When considering references, job seekers often make the mistake of choosing people with whom they have most recently worked with. While this makes sense on many levels, and should certainly be included if they offer an excellent understanding of how the job seeker can contribute to the desired position, it doesn’t always make the most sense. Job seekers should select references who can clearly contextualize how the candidate will bring value to the company and the specific through their skills, expertise, and talent. These references are not always the most recent colleagues, bosses, or coworkers.

Earnestly Recruit References

Don’t treat a reference as a one-off favor. Remember that an effective reference has the power to dramatically change your life, and the information they supply may indeed lead to a lifelong, rewarding career. Approach references earnestly. Take the time to compose thoughtful emails that provide prospective references with detailed information about why they were selected, and how much their thoughts and insights mean to you. Give the reference a clear and honest explanation for why you think they are uniquely qualified to offer a prospective employer details regarding your suitability for the job and the company.

Meet in person. Asking someone to be a job reference is an excellent opportunity to buy them a coffee or drink and catch up. This shows the job reference you sincerely appreciate their time and effort, and that you value their opinions and want them to be a permanent part of your network of professionals. They may, in fact, need you as a reference someday in the future. Never underestimate the power of face-to-face time with other human beings. Taking your job reference out for lunch or a beverage allows them to see the passion in your eyes, the appreciation in your heart, and the goodwill in your intentions. A job reference who can talk about you as a human being and not only a job applicant can be the difference between landing that dream job and salary or being passed over due to a lack of compelling details or poor communication.

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Prep Your References

Most people are flattered to be asked to be a job reference. It feels good to help others advance their lives and careers. It feels good to have your professional opinion and accomplishments validated by being asked to represent the professional acumen of a former colleague. Most references are open to doing some leg work and taking the time to understand the job being pursued, and why the job seeker in interested in this specific opportunity. However, it is the job seeker’s responsibility to streamline the process of bringing a job reference up to speed.

Don’t make your job reference do any unnecessary or superfluous work. The sloppy execution of recruiting and educating a job reference can undermine the total endeavor. Send your job reference the job description and highlight the requirements and abilities that you believe deserve the most attention. Provide the reference a brief description of the company, its industry, and why you find this particular company’s work culture desirable. Send the reference an updated resume, and highlight specific experiences and successes that would be most meaningful in a conversation with the prospective employer. An effectively prepped job reference is equipped to have a focused and productive conversation about you, which increases your chances of taking your life to the next level.

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