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Professional References

No matter how many good things you say and demonstrate about yourself on your resume or in job interviews, at some point employers are going to want an objective second opinion of you -- and probably third and fourth opinions as well. That's where your professional references come in. The time and care you invest in choosing and even coaching the people who will serve as your references might very well determine whether you're ultimately offered the job or internship you so badly want. Why? Because most employers aren't going to rely on your word alone, no matter how sincere and truthful you might be in marketing yourself for a position. Most employers aren't going to rely solely on their own judgments of you, either. They simply haven't known you long enough to fully assess you and your education, experiences and skills. Nor have they seen how you fare in pressure- or stress-filled situations.
So most employers will want to hear from your references in hopes that these people who know you a little better can speak to your skills and personal traits based on their past experiences with you. It goes without saying, then, that the better your references are, the better your chances will be when it comes to landing the position. Who makes a good professional reference?
While your family and friends may love you and speak highly of you, they're not the best professional references. Instead, approach your:
Current and Past Employers: Employers will probably be your best professional references because they can discuss your work habits and the skills you gained on the job. They'll also have the most in common with the people who are considering you for the job or internship you're seeking. Professors: If you've gotten to know some of your professors fairly well, ask them to be references for you. While professors may not be able to speak to the skills you gained in an employment setting, they can describe your academic abilities and your skills in areas like research, written communication and oral presentation.
Advisors: While you may not know your academic advisor terribly well, may be you've worked closely with your student organization's advisor. If so, he can talk about your leadership skills, your people and teamwork skills, and perhaps even your fundraising or member recruitment skills.
Volunteer Supervisors: If you've done any volunteering on campus or in your local community, you've probably worked fairly closely with at least one person who has overseen your efforts. That person can talk about your level of commitment and maybe your creative skills and follow-through habits as well.
Ask each of your references to write you a brief (one- or two-page) letter that you can give to prospective employers. Make the job easy for the people you select by giving them a list of skills and experiences you'd like them to highlight in their letters, as well as a copy of your resume. The more information you can give them, the better; after all, some of them might be writing letters for several or even dozens of students.
Once you have your reference letters in hand, ask the people you've chosen if they'd be willing to speak to employers directly as well. In most cases, employers will treat reference letters as mere starting points of the reference-checking process; they know that such letters will be glowing with praise for you (otherwise you wouldn't have submitted them). So they'll want to contact your references by phone or email to get more specifics about you and your skills and experiences. Your references need to be prepared for those calls or emails if and when they come.
Finding good references and convincing them to help you can be tricky and time-consuming to be sure, often because the people you approach are simply busy with so many other things. But if you choose your references with care and do all you can to make the process straight forward for them, you'll wind up with one, two, three or more people who might well serve as that little extra edge you need to land the position you want.