(MoneyWatch) For some job applicants, a reference check is a mere formality. But in the case where the field has been narrowed down to two candidates, a strong reference can give someone the edge over a candidate with a lukewarm recommendation. Your best bet? Choosing your reference with considerable care.
To that end, here are four types of people to generally avoid using as a job reference.
A non-work friend or very temporary co-worker. A reference should be someone who knows you and your work well. "Avoid using someone who did not work with you directly during your regular day-to-day job or on a special project," says Heather McNab, author of "What Top Professionals Need to Know About Answering Job Interview Questions." A recruiter wants to gain information about you and will ask specific questions about your relationship with the reference. If they receive only vague answers, you'll have missed a valuable opportunity to showcase your attributes.
A current co-worker. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule. If someone who you work with is discrete and supportive, they may be your best reference, particularly if you've been at the same place for awhile or have a limited work history. But if you have other choices who are just as good, use them. "If the word gets out that your co-worker was a reference and you don't get the job, it could put your current position in jeopardy. It could also put your co-worker's job in jeopardy whether or not you get the job," says McNab.
Someone with a bad rep. Think about your reference's possible relationship with the company and how their name will be perceived by the recruiter. "We are judged by the company we keep. Don't ask someone who will reflect poorly on you, be it via his or her reputation, communication style, or general attitude," says Meryl Weinsaft Cooper, author of "Be Your Own Best Publicist: How To Use PR Techniques To Get Noticed, Get Hired & Get Rewarded At Work."
A loose cannon. Clearly, you don't want to ask for a reference from someone who doesn't like you or didn't give you favorable reviews when you worked for them. But also be careful of asking people who love you but have a tendency to speak off the cuff or say inappropriate things, says Cheryl Palmer, founder of Call to Career, a consulting firm. You can help prepare references by giving them talking points, but if someone loves to over-share information in a way that might not be helpful, stick with someone who is more professional.
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