Being a reference isn’t as simple as it used to be because references are no longer asked to simply verify a few simple facts. And references are being required for more and more positions, from volunteer work to low level internships. If you’re in a position of authority, odds are good that sooner or later someone will ask you to be a reference for them. If you like the person, trust their work, and want to help them get into school, get a new job, or get an internship, here’s what you can do to be a good reference:
Learn About the Position
In order to provide relevant information, you need to know about the position the person is applying for. Saying they’re great with animals won’t do any good for someone who wants a clerical job, but could be vital for a veterinary internship. Find out what the key traits for the position are and then think about which traits you can talk about.
People get jobs, scholarships, and internships when they stand out, and helping your employee or student stand out can be a vital role of a reference. Think about what makes this person really unique. Are they a great listener? Excellent at resolving conflict management? Highlight the skills that you think are really special about this person. Saying a person has a good work ethic and is friendly is nearly as boring as saying they are human. Everyone’s references say this, so find a way to convey the uniqueness of your employee or student and you’ll greatly increase his or her chances of getting the position.
Have Accurate Dates
Many jobs call previous employers to check to make sure the potential new employee is being honest. Make sure you have accurate dates for the time of employment, and double check these with the person you are giving the reference for. If you give incorrect dates when asked, you may harm the person’s chances of getting the position.
Don’t Reveal Too Much
Talking about political affiliations or family structure can backfire. You may like it that your student is a flaming liberal who has three amazing children, but their employer may feel differently. Stick to the salient facts of the job, and leave personal, subjective information out of it. One caveat: if the person you are giving a reference for has had a major triumph over adversity (illness, death in the family, etc.), it is worth mentioning, but make sure to get your student or employee’s permission first.
Don’t claim the person you are providing a reference for has credentials that they don’t. And if you claim that they are too perfect, your reference will begin to sound fake. If you are asked about the person’s shortcomings, be honest, and emphasize how the person has improved over time, fixed mistakes, apologized for errors, etc. Emphasizing a willingness to move past mistakes will help your employee or student much more than insisting they are perfect ever could!