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Local professionals share tips for lining up the best references

FARGO -- The saying goes "Resumes win interviews, but references win job offers." Tania Cook, an administrative staffing consultant at Preference Personnel, said references can also be the reason an applicant does not get the job. Cook said many ...

Tania Cook of Preference Personnel in Fargo, N.D. explains who you should and shouldn’t use as a reference when you apply for a job. Carrie Snyder / The Forum
Tania Cook of Preference Personnel in Fargo, N.D. explains who you should and shouldn’t use as a reference when you apply for a job. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

FARGO - The saying goes "Resumes win interviews, but references win job offers."

Tania Cook, an administrative staffing consultant at Preference Personnel, said references can also be the reason an applicant does not get the job.

Cook said many people focus all of their energy on their resume and cover letter and neglect an important part of the job search, which is lining up good references.

The most common mistake she sees is applicants not getting people's permission to be used as references. Not only does it leave them unprepared for a call, but they may be so put off that they give a poor recommendation.

Another problem can be using a former employer with a policy against giving out information besides dates of employment and salary. Finding out what they can and will say is another reason it is important to speak with references ahead of time.

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In addition to getting permission, Alicia Olson, a career development coach at Concordia College, recommends students provide their references with hard copies of their resume and cover letter.

She said references should know the type of job sought and the skills and qualifications required. The resume will also remind them of the applicant's experience and accomplishments. Ideally, references will have all of this information in hand when the call comes in so they are not grasping at straws, Olson said.

She said it is also important to have references' contact information up-to-date, including name, professional title, address, phone number and email address.

Olson said every application process is different, but as a rule she recommends not providing references along with a resume unless it is required to avoid potentially inundating references with calls. They should not be bothered unless the applicant is serious about the position.

Who to use

Olson and Cook say references should be people who can speak to an applicant's strengths and weaknesses, ability to work with others, leadership skills, ability to meet deadlines and work ethic.

Options are supervisors, peers, subordinates, clients or a volunteer or community leader.

Cook said it is important to remain on good terms with former co-workers and employers. Do not lose contact with those people who may be able to assist in future job searches.

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Students with little work history might consider asking academic advisers, coaches or mentors to serve as references.

Who to avoid

Olson said she typically tells students to stay away from using relatives as references. Most employers will assume family members are incapable of giving an unbiased opinion.

She also tells students to avoid using a religious leader or a politician with a well-known party affiliation, unless they are seeking a job in those fields.

"Those are typically illegal questions that they can't ask during an interview but could possibly shed some light onto a candidate's background by association with a reference," Olson said.

Applicants should also avoid using anyone with a criminal background.

"Make sure the person who you're asking to be that reference has a really solid reputation and truly knows who you are as a person," Olson said.

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Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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