Ever made plans to go to a restaurant only to have your mind changed by the reviews online? Or maybe you've been on the fence about whether to buy something until a friend said such great things about it that you went online and ordered it right away. Other people’s opinions matter to us, and that is why references can be your greatest secret weapon. References are like Yelp, for your resume.
The References section of the application is the employer giving you the opportunity to assemble the perfect team of reviewers to help them make decisions when they aren’t 100 percent convinced that you’re the person for the job. Your references are your advocates. They are people who believe in your character, abilities, or proven track record of reliability. Choose wisely. Understand what role your references play. Make sure you have your references’ approval to list them, make sure they know what position you’re going for, and make sure they sound good on the phone. The last thing you want is an employer to have a poor experience with a reference. Your references are a reflection of you. Make sure they show the best possible professional side of you.
“From an employer’s perspective, if you pay attention to detail by preparing your references, you’re also likely to show attention to detail when working with patients.”
To figure out who to use as a reference, think about when you were most proud of your work, or know that you stood out. Who was there to see you shine? Did your boss tell you they loved being able to rely on you? Did you spend office hours with your professors and give them your best work every time? Even if your grades weren’t that great, did the professor see how much you really worked for them, did you impress them with how dedicated you were to making sure you got the help you needed? Did you make your co-workers’ jobs easier? Have you had mentors throughout the years that might be able to speak on your behalf? Even if you have no experience and no professional references, you have your character, and that’s something people who you’ve met in the last few months or years should be able to speak about. Make a list of people that you know you’ve done right by, and who you know have every reason to trust you, people who are rooting for you to win: Then go through your list to pick the strongest ones.
Your strongest references in order will be:
- People already in the medical field.
- People who knew you from a professional or academic setting that were forced to rely on you and were pleasantly relieved with how great you were to work with.
- People who you’ve volunteered with/for. People you’ve worked on extracurricular activities with. People who saw you overcome obstacles.
- Friends/Roommates/Extended family who have job titles with high levels of responsibility.
Your future employer is more likely to trust that someone in medical knows what it takes to be successful in a medical position. These references should be listed first. If you don’t know anyone in medical who knows you well enough to answer detailed questions about your reliability/character/work-ethic, that’s okay. Next move through the list of all the professionals you know. Do you have good relationships with previous employers, volunteer organizations, your child’s school if you’ve been involved with it, professionals from your worship center, your current school? You’re looking for a list of people you’ve proven yourself to. You want people who admire your energy, found you to be reliable, have tried to help you in some way (or at least expressed kindness), and who speak really well themselves. Employers don’t want to know what a great person your friends think you are. They want to know what kind of person people who have been forced to depend on you think you are.
If you don’t have any professional references, move onto personal ones: Anyone who knew you while you were working or going to school that can talk about what kind of dedication you have, anyone whose children you watched, or who you did small jobs for. Anyone who saw you be committed to and passionate about something. Only use friends and previous roommates if they are well-spoken and have job titles that indicate some level of responsibility. This is not a popularity contest. This is a reliability contest! Be careful when listing friends as references. You want proven professionals who think you deserve to join the ranks of proven professionals.
Do not ask people to be your reference if you have been rude, inconsiderate, repeatedly late, or never made an effort to get to know them! The only thing worse than doing those things to them, is asking them to lie on your behalf by telling an employer that you are kind and reliable, when you were actually the opposite with them. Do not ask professors to be your reference if you never spoke to them outside of class.
“It is a rare treat for an employer when a reference knows exactly what they’re calling about and then launches into their experiences with you and why they think you’d be really great for that particular position.”
Once you’ve selected your references, call or email them. Let them know that you’ve gone to school, gotten great training, and are now trying to get into the medical field. Let them know that you are working really hard to find the right office and that all you’re looking for is a chance to get your foot in the door. Remind them of what you think you did that earned you a good reference. Tell them why you think employers should hire you. Ask them if they are willing to be a reference for you. Once they’ve agreed, let them know which offices might be calling them. If the Intake Coordinator Employer calls, they’ll want to mention how great at multi-tasking you are and how good you are with details. If the Scheduling Receptionist Employer calls they’ll want to talk about how warm and professional you are in interactions. Not all references know what to say. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you want them to say. They might even ask you what you want them to say. Have an answer for them. The way you carry yourself and show consideration to them during this call or email will give them more reasons to speak well of you. Employers are used to calling people who have no idea that they are being listed as references. It is a rare treat for an employer when a reference knows exactly what they’re calling about and then launches into their experiences with you and why they think you’d be really great for that particular position.
From an employer’s perspective, if you pay attention to detail by preparing your references, you’re also likely to show attention to detail when working with patients. If you communicate well with your references, you’ll probably also communicate well with your patients. If you can provide references that speak professionally, you can probably be counted on to know how to speak professionally. If you know what they want to see, you’re more likely to be able to show it to them again and again as their employee.
Be strategic. Take your references seriously. And most importantly, thank them for being your reference. They’ll be there for you next time you need a reference if you make sure to check in with them periodically. Play the long game. It’s the one that wins.