August 09, 2005

References: What to do about Uncle Bob?

Finally, we get to the last section of the resume: your references. Many guides advise you to add a line at the bottom of your resume that states, "References Available Upon Request." But today that line is usually left off the resume. It is assumed that you will have references. It is likely they'll be calling the HR Departments of your former employers and you'll want to provide personal contacts to round out that vision of your work history. If the recruiter wants to see them they will ask for them in the job listing or for your first interview.

A professional reference is anyone you have worked with or for, in a professional relationship. That could be client/vendor, boss/underling, associate from your department, or similar experience. The exception to this rule is if that person is also a relative, even through marraige. Sometimes you won't be able to avoid listing a relative as a professional reference, but if at all possible find another worker from company. If you have a professional reference that works at the company you're applying to this is the place to list them.

A personal reference is someone who will vouch that you're not some wacked out looney and that the timeline and story you tell in your cover letter and resume is true. This someone might be a teacher, close friend, business partner, family friend (oh I knew Johnny when he was still in diapers), relative you have worked for or with in the past, etc. In this case I would avoid spiritual advisors or psychiatrists.

This next step is important: contact each person before listing them and politely ask them if you may use them as a reference. While you're talking with them verify address and contact information. Try to take a few minutes and discuss your career goals with them so they are on the same page as you if they are called for follow up. You don't want them saying you want to be a doctor if you've changed your mind since you last talked with them and now want to be a human resources director.

So what do you do if there is overlap between your professional and personal references? If your professional life and your friends overlap, you may want to use the same name on both your reference lists. There are some situations where you are probably fine doing this. However, if it is possible to chose someone else from that company or office who isn't also a personal reference, then do so. It's much better to list a family friend on your reference list than a family member.

Now you're ready to format your reference list:

Prepare a separate sheet of the same paper your resume is printed on with your same name and contact info formated exactly as on the resume. A few lines below that put the word 'References.' Then list three or four professional references with names, addresses, phone numbers and emails. You may format these aligned left or centered. I prefer centered, but aligned left may scan better. You may tab it in a few times if you like.

Now do the same thing for three personal references, except you'll title the sheet 'Personal References', that are different names from your professional references.

If you have more than four references, consider listing the four you think will give you the best recommendation for the particular job you're applying for. This may change from job to job.

When you’re all done make sure you have someone proofread it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A fresh pair of eyes is important. If you can't find a proofreader, set it down for at least three hours, go watch some mindnumbing movie or PBS show, then come back and look at it.

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