References In Cover Letter Or Resume First
5 ways references can lose you a job
Without the right people to endorse your skills, work ethic, and experience, you could be jeopardizing your dream job.
Don't let a bad reference keep you from getting the job.
Sometimes the best resume, smartest cover letter, or even the strongest interview skills are not enough to persuade an employer to hire you. To get a job, you also need people who can sing your praises, people who can attest that you’re a star employee. Put simply: You need professional references.
Unfortunately, “references are often an afterthought for job seekers,” says Andrea Kay, a career consultant based in Cincinnati.
To ensure your references present you in the best light, avoid these common mistakes.
Professional reference list mistakes to avoid
- Not asking a person for permission to list them as a reference
- Asking the wrong people to be a reference
- Not preparing your references
- Assuming your reference will give you a great review
- Forgetting to thank your references
Mistake #1: Listing someone as a reference without asking the person for permission first
Asking if someone will be a reference for you might sound like a basic step, but Kay says you’d be surprised how many job seekers forget to do it.
“A lot of people just don’t ask for permission,” Kay says. “They just assume that the person is happy to do it.” Hence, you’ll want to touch base with references before providing their contact information to a prospective employer. It’s simply common courtesy.
Mistake #2: Asking the wrong people
No doubt your mom thinks you’re a superstar, and your BFF would have your back no matter what, but alas, you can’t use friends and family members as references. After all, you’re looking for people who can speak to not only your personality, but also your career skills and work ethic.
“You want someone who you worked for, someone you worked with, or someone who worked for you,” says Stefanie Wichansky, CEO at Randolph, New Jersey-based management consulting and staffing firm Professional Resource Partners.
Ideally, you wrangle all three for your reference list. “That would give an employer a good picture of how you are as a direct report, as a co-worker, and as a manager,” Wichansky says.
If you’re going to use a previous boss as a reference, though, first check to see whether the person is allowed to talk about your job performance. “A lot of companies have strict policies that only let managers confirm a past employee’s job title and dates of employment,” says Jeff Shane, president at Allison & Taylor, a professional background screening firm based in Rochester, Michigan.
Mistake #3: Not preparing your references
Many hiring managers will let you know in advance when they’re going to contact your references. So, if possible, you should give your references a heads-up to let them know who will be contacting them, and supply them with an updated copy of your resume.
Pro tip: Share the job description with your references, so they can gain a good sense of the position you’re applying for.
Depending on how long it’s been since you held the job, you may have to refresh the person’s memory about specific projects you worked on or results you delivered that can be used as talking points.
Also, consider asking your references to speak to certain skills, such as leadership, reliability, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork. Recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that employers care more about these particular soft skills than they do technical abilities like reading comprehension or mathematics.
Mistake #4: Blindly assuming the person will give you a glowing review
Even though you think you were a great employee, your past manager may not feel the same way.
“Countless job seekers have been dismayed by the information that a former supervisor shares about them,” says Shane. “If an employer uncovers a negative reference, you may never hear from the company ever again.”
Therefore, if you’re even the slightest bit unsure of where you stand, ask your references ahead of time what they’re going to say about you. If they don’t plan on flattering you, take them off your references list and move on to the next person.
Mistake #5: Forgetting to send a thank-you letter
Your references are doing you a big favor. “They’re not only investing their time for you, but they’re also putting their own reputation on the line,” Kay says.
Take a few minutes to write them a thank-you email or handwritten letter. It’s a small gesture, but it can go a long way.
“If you want someone to be a good reference, you have to act like a mensch,” Kay says. “There’s no such thing as being too appreciative.”
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How to Mention a Referral in Your Cover Letter
A referral can help you stand out from the crowd when you are applying for a job. Hiring managers and recruiters are more likely to take a closer look at candidates with whom they share a mutual contact, and for good reason: studies have shown that hiring through employee referral is faster, cheaper, and more effective than relying on job sites. Referral hires also tend to get up to speed more quickly, fit in better, and stay at the company longer.
A referral cover letter can make the difference in helping your application get noticed by prospective employers. It also gives the hiring manager some context for your work and provides additional information about you.
What Is a Referral Cover Letter?
A referral cover letter is used to mention a mutual connection when applying for a job. You might be referred by a colleague, a friend, an employee at the company you’re interested in, or even your college career office. Having a referral to mention in your cover letter helps the hiring manager relate your experience to the open position, and can provide some insight into how well you might fit in at the company.
Your cover letter is your opportunity to highlight your education, skills, and qualifications for the job. In addition to your referral, you will have the chance to mention a few specific examples of why you are the best candidate for the position, and give more detail than you can on your resume.
How to Get a Referral
The referral doesn't have to be a business connection. You can ask anyone you know at the company or who has a contact at the company if they would recommend you for a job.
Just be sure to check with the individual in advance and ask if they are willing to give you a referral. Even if you’re certain they’d vouch for you, giving a potential referral a heads-up ensures that they’ll be able to offer the best possible recommendation, given the job requirements.
You can send a letter or email asking for a referral, which will give the person the time and opportunity to think through what they can do for you, and how to proceed.
How to Mention a Referral in a Cover Letter
When you use a referral in your cover letter, you should mention it in the first paragraph. Include the individual by name and describe your connection with them as well. Give a brief account of how you know the person, in what context, and for how long you have been acquainted.
In addition, if the person recommended that you apply for this particular position, take the opportunity to mention why they are endorsing you. What qualities of yours made them think that you would be a good fit for the company?
My colleague Amy Smith recommended that I contact you directly about this position. Amy and I have worked closely in the industry for many years, and she thought that ABC Inc. would be a good fit for my style and experience in sales. She pointed out that as a successful, award-winning salesperson I would be an excellent addition to the sales team at ABC Inc.
Referral Cover Letter Tips
Name-dropping does not come easily to some people, especially if you're already struggling with how to write about your accomplishments and sell yourself to a hiring manager.
For this reason, it is often helpful to look at examples of cover letters. Be sure to tailor your letter to fit your personal and professional circumstances.
You should include a brief mention of the recommendation right away in the letter. This strategy puts the referral in the front of the reader's mind, giving them context for what follows.
This leaves you plenty of space to expand on your strengths and why you're the best candidate for the job. Your cover letter is your chance to make a strong first impression, since it is likely the first thing a hiring manager will see, possibly even before your resume. Take the opportunity to impress them with your contact and their recommendation, and then go on to show examples of your successes in the workplace to prove that you are the most qualified person for the job.
As with all your business correspondence, make sure that you proofread your cover letter for correct spelling and grammar, and check that the information matches on all the documents you submit.