By Khalilah Starks

Choosing references can be one of the most challenging parts of the job search process.  Believe it or not, references can make or break a company’s decision to hire you.  I’ve been in situations where two candidates were equally as strong, so the deciding factor came down to their references.  So, make sure that you choose references that will not only be positive, but, be an advocate for you during that part of the employment process.

Some employers will ask very basic questions having to do with your strengths and weaknesses while others will probe your references as if they’re the ones being interviewed for the job.  In addition to strengths and weaknesses, it’s not uncommon for an employer to ask a reference about significant contributions that you’ve made and examples of situations when you’ve exhibited a certain skill set that would be important for the position (i.e. leadership, problem solving, etc.).  If excellent customer service skills are required for the position, your reference may be asked to provide examples that illustrate your ability to give excellent customer service.

So, here are some tips to ensure that you get the best reference possible.  When selecting your references, be sure to select professionals who have a good knowledge of your experience, achievements, and skills sets.  Pick a professional that has good communication skills and can articulate your value to an employer.  Make sure that you always brief your reference about opportunities that they may be getting a phone call about.  The last thing that you want is for your reference to be caught off guard by an unexpected employer call.  And, make sure that your references are prepared to give the most positive, glowing reference humanly possible.  This seems like a no brainer, but, I’ve had references say things like, “he would be limited to this type of work.”  And, limited is a word that an employer never wants to hear.