Why are job references important?
One major reason is because business aviation is a niche industry. And, as such, it often seems like everyone in business aviation knows everyone else. Or they can get to know them fairly rapidly via word-of-mouth.
That means your industry-wide reputation is critically important. The people providing your job references can be a vital key to getting a job offer from a company—or not.
Part of building your references is to proactively ask specific people if they’d be willing to provide a professional reference for you. For that and many other reasons, it serves as a good reminder to never burn a bridge in business aviation. After all, you can’t predict when you might need a favor from a former colleague or manager one day.
There’s definitely an “art” to the job reference process, along with several “best practices.” That’s why our team has collectively answered the following frequently asked questions regarding job references:
Does API contact my references?
As aviation recruiters, we absolutely check job references for our candidates who are being recommended for our clients’ projects. Unfortunately, we sometimes discover that the character references for potential recruits aren’t very positive. This certainly doesn’t bode well for us recommending that particular applicant to our clients.
Why do many companies ask for two to three references?
During the job application process, it’s almost a given that companies (and recruiters like API) will request at least three references from a candidate. The companies typically want to speak with a variety of people from your personal and professional life.
Why? Because these interviews give a hiring manager a “360-degree” view of you as a person and a professional—and not just from one individual. By talking to a handful of people, recruiters can gain a better, more comprehensive understanding of who you are, your character, your work habits, your likes and dislikes.
What one reference might tell a recruiter, another might say something substantially different. So it pays to get a more well-rounded appreciation for who you are and what you bring to the professional table.
Whom should I ask for references?
For each new job opportunity, make sure your reference list is the right fit. Think about your relationship with each person who has agreed to vouch for you. How closely did you work with them? How recently did you work together? How articulate are they, and how effectively do you think they will characterize you and your qualities for the hiring manager?
The answers to all of these questions play a significant role in helping you decide whom you should ask to be on your list. Remember, it’s up to you to select people whom you know will positively emphasize your strengths to potential employers.
As a rule of thumb, you need to carefully develop your list of references. Over time, it’s a good practice to touch base with the people who’ve provided a reference for you, and revisit their willingness to act on your behalf.
The last thing you need when job searching is a reference who might say something negative—even if it’s a minor point. Speaking from experience in contacting references, we cannot underscore enough the importance of understanding any potential concerns that might surface from your colleagues regarding your interpersonal skills or technical abilities.
What types of people should I ask?
Following are several categories of people you might want to include on your list of job references:
- Former Employer – A previous employer can provide some of the best insights into your work ethic. They know what your responsibilities were at your job and how you handled them. At a minimum, they will confirm a very basic history, including your title and employment dates. If they are in business aviation, they may be able to provide examples supporting your passion for the industry.
- Colleague – Someone you worked alongside at a previous job can be an excellent reference. They will be able to speak about projects you worked on together, how well you tackled challenges and what you achieved as a team. Keep in mind that “teamwork” is a hot button today. It’s one of the most important soft skills an employer So, having someone who can vouch for your teamwork skills is vital.
- Manager –Someone who might have directly managed you (but wasn’t necessarily your boss) could be another excellent reference to include. They can offer specific examples of your work and how you dealt with peers.
- Community Colleague – An ideal reference might be someone from a volunteer organization or a member of your house of He or she can attest to your leadership abilities, the nature of your extracurricular activities and your commitment to charities and other worthy causes. People with whom you volunteer, community leaders, college professor and members of the clergy all qualify as good personal references. But your buddies or next-door neighbors might not be the best choices to vouch for you on a professional level.
What should I do to prepare my personal references?
When you decide to use someone as a professional reference, be sure to talk with them. It’s best to get their agreement before you add their name to your list. Make certain that they’re comfortable serving as a professional reference for you. Determine that they’ll give you a positive reference. And that they’ll be available in the coming weeks or months to get a call or a request to field questions about you. Confirm that their contact information is correct.
One way to check a potential reference is to ask him or her to draft a written recommendation for you. That way you can vet it in advance of forwarding the reference’s name and contact information to employers. By doing so, you’ll get a clear sense of how well and articulately your references will represent you and your background.
You never want a reference to be unprepared or caught off-guard when they’re contacted by a recruiter or potential employer. If so, it may reflect negatively on you. And, in the recruiter’s eyes, it could make you appear unprofessional and unprepared.
Whenever you submit your reference list to a potential employer, touch base with your references beforehand. Give them the “heads up” that you’ll be sending their name to a particular company or recruiter (such as API). Tell them that they might be contacted by a representative of that company.
Help out your references by providing them with your current resume, and be sure to let them know what job you’re applying for. Make sure they’re still willing to vouch for your professionalism and can represent you in a positive way. Here at API, when we call references, we’ll always identify ourselves and tell them you’ve given us their name as a reference. But we won’t share the name of the potential new company with them—that’s your responsibility.
What specific reference contact information should I provide to a hiring company?
It’s a good idea to have a prepared document to offer potential employers. It should document your references and their current contact information. Keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily have to be included with your resume.
Recruiters will typically request your list of references and/or submit them to the hiring company on your behalf. If you’re not working with a recruiter, you can bring a printed copy of your list to your interview. Or you can wait until the hiring company requests it and then submit it electronically. Then, promptly let the people on your list know that they should expect a call or email from someone associated with that company.
Include the following contact details on your reference list.
- Reference’s full name
- Job title*
- Company name*
- Company location*
- Cell phone
- Email address
- A brief explanation of your working relationship
* Note if your reference’s title and/or company is based on their current or past history. It’s possible they may have taken a new position since you worked together.
How seriously do recruiters and potential employers regard references?
As we mentioned earlier, professional references are absolutely important to most recruiters or hiring managers. So they should be treated with the utmost care and accuracy. A good reference can be an important factor in whether you’re offered the job and, by the same token, a negative reference can hinder you significantly in that regard.
If I get the job—or even if I don’t—what do I owe my reference in return?
At the very least, give them a call to thank them for taking the time to speak on your behalf. I would always recommend sending a written thank you note. You may even consider sending flowers, a bottle of wine or a small token of your appreciation. It’s especially encouraged if their support contributed to a major career advancement for you.
Don’t forget to tell them that you’ll return the favor. If you worked closely enough with someone who acted as a valuable professional reference for you, they may feel that it ought to be reciprocal. After all, you may be able to offer them the same courtesy someday.
Do written recommendations on LinkedIn count?
LinkedIn recommendations provide an excellent opportunity to pre-screen your references. Try writing one for them before you ask them to submit a LinkedIn endorsement for you. And don’t forget to make sure someone has agreed to submit a positive recommendation on your behalf before you ask them for a LinkedIn reference.
From the foregoing, it ought to be clear that the age-old practice of personally vouching for someone who’s seeking a job is still alive and well. And, just as it was the case decades ago, the quality of your references and the content of their recommendations have the potential to make or break your chances of landing a job.
So do the homework and whatever else it takes to create a reference list that will let your potential employer know that you’re absolutely the right person for the job at hand. You’ll thank yourself—and your references—afterward!