The best reference you can have is one that lasts over time and provides the interviewer with the satisfaction that you are whom you say you are and can do what you say you can do. This is usually a written reference as opposed to a verbal comment about your accomplishments and abilities.
Wherever possible, it is preferable to leave your last employer on good terms. A poor reference will hang around and often haunt you for many years to come. Unless you have already announced your leaving, it is unlikely that you can approach your current employer for a reference. Therefore, you should make it a part of your career activities to conduct a brief exit survey with each of your employers and learn how you were viewed from their perspective. This provides you with excellent growth related information and a painless segue to request a letter of reference. Even if past job performance was not sterling, certainly your last employer can isolate one or two situations where you satisfactorily met his or her expectations.
Accumulate as many reference letters as you can from your past employers, direct supervisors, co-workers, etc. Try to have each of them describe a specific project or work perspective to avoid having your backup materials appear the same. Wherever applicable, categorize each of the letters into groups: Leadership, Problem Solving, Customer Relations and the like. In this way you will create a database of potential letters from which you can draw and submit during the interview process.
Hints & Tips:
- DO NOT INCLUDE reference letters or list names and telephone numbers with your résumé. Wait until you are in the interview and are requested to supply information.
- Where possible, provide the interviewer with copies of appropriate reference letters. If they are written on company letterhead and make reasonable statements about you, most interviewers will accept the letter at face value and won’t bother calling your reference contact.
- If you are offering the same reference name on several résumé applications, ensure that you call this contact, ask his or her permission, and advise which companies might call. It is also a good idea to provide this reference with a copy of your résumé so that there will be “no surprises” should the interviewer start asking direct questions about your claims.