Companies tend to look for three strong references from people you have reported to, and there is typically no need to provide more than that. Hiring managers often consider talking to coworkers, former clients, and media contacts, but will always want to speak with at least one person to whom you have reported. If you have a limited amount of experience, they might settle for two good references.
It's best to know who your references are before interviewing and to let them know they might be called. Asking for a reference can be tricky and sometimes means confiding in your manager. Be ready to explain the reasons you're considering this move and be sure to stress that it's confidential.
You should have a good sense of what your references will say. You want someone who can rave about your strengths rather than someone that says that you're nice and competent. Most references understand they are being asked for a vote of confidence in the candidate, but you need to be completely confident about the ones you provide. References are an opportunity to put it over the top and close the deal.
Gary Platt is president at Strategic Recruiting.
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