Who Loves You? 3 Strategies to Get the Best References

Your resume is well-stocked with work achievements, and your interview skills finely tuned. But the finance and accounting job market is so competitive, your references may just be the finishing touch that tips the scale toward landing you a job offer — or not. So choose them wisely.

Here’s a 3-point strategy to make sure your references are the right ones:

1. Select quality references

You may have plenty of people ready to sing your praises at a moment’s notice, but you’ll want to narrow down your list to just those who can give your potential employer an idea about the type of employee and person you are. First, think of who could best vouch for you verbally, not just in a letter of recommendation. Ideally, you want someone personable and responsive who is likely to “talk you up” to your potential employer.

References should be in positions or have abilities that would impress and be most credible to a prospective employer in the finance and accounting world. After all, you want outside validation of your work from someone who relied on your professional contributions in the past. A previous supervisor is generally the best choice, although not necessarily if she doesn’t know all of your accomplishments or you think she may not give a good reference. Business associates and customers can be relevant references, too. A mentor or professor from college could be another possibility, if you’ve recently graduated.

Finally, if you’re looking for another position while employed, be careful when choosing current colleagues. Approach only those you can trust to keep your job search confidential.

2. Always ask permission

Once you’ve created a list of potential references, ask each of them if they would be willing to serve as a reference for you. People who are not as familiar with your work as you think may not feel qualified to provide a solid reference or write a good letter of recommendation, so don’t push. The last thing you want is a reluctant reference.

Phoning a potential reference is the most straightforward approach, but emailing is a good alternative if you don’t want to put the person in an awkward position; an email allows them to politely decline if they don’t feel comfortable giving a reference, or don’t have the time. It’s acceptable to ask for a reference or recommendation on LinkedIn, too. And, as with email, it makes it easier for the potential reference to decline gracefully.

3. Coach your references

Give a little guidance to your references as to what they may want to emphasize with your prospective employers. Provide them with a copy of your updated resume. Talk to your references about the company representative who may contact them and include any details you know about how or when that contact may happen.

Also, discuss the position you’re seeking with your references, focusing on what makes you a good fit for it. References you know well professionally will be familiar with some of your work history, but summarize it for them, reminding them how you feel it benefitted previous employers. Point out anything else you think they could say to your potential employer that would boost your credibility and your chances of landing the job.

Finally, be sure to follow up and thank anyone who agreed to provide a reference, regardless of whether you get the job. They’ll be curious about whether you landed — and accepted — the position, and they’ll be more willing to serve as your references in the future if they know you appreciate their help.

How do you choose your references? Share your career advice in the comments section.