Who should you include in your references?


So you're looking for a new job. First things first – time to brush off the resume and perfect your elevator pitch. Next step? Figure out the people you're going to ask to be your references.

Traditionally, references are past managers, and for decades this has been the industry standard. However, with organizations becoming less hierarchical and workplace culture emerging as one of the key selling points for a company, you should consider asking a co-worker to be your reference, too. Peers know things about you that your boss may not, and the kind of knowledge they have can be critical to a hiring manager.

It is time to look beyond the boss and begin considering your co-workers as potential references.

Co-workers can speak to your soft skills. A study conducted by SkillSurvey found that when asked to provide a reference, co-workers tend to emphasize soft skills, while managers focus on hard skills. To clarify, hard skills are learned skills (e.g., meeting deadlines and working independently) and soft skills are less quantifiable and focus on interpersonal behaviors (e.g., helpfulness and compassion).

While managers may say whether you are good at your job, co-workers will say how you behaved on the job – and this is important! Data proves that employers take soft skills seriously. A CareerBuilder study shows that 77 percent of employers believe soft skills are just as important as hard skills, and 16 percent believe they're more important. In today's agility-focused, team-based workplace, employers are no longer interested only in how well you write, code or balance the books.

Your colleagues, more so than your boss, will be able to tell an employer whether you are truly a team player. Your boss can speak to your performance, dependability and industry knowledge, but they may not have any idea how well you work with others. Employers know that for their teams to excel, having people with soft skills is an absolute must, and they are looking for co-workers to give them this kind of information. Colleague references are filling a void in the hiring process – while resumes and manager references deal in skills and knowledge, peer references deal in character and personality.

Hiring managers are looking for a culture fit. Collaboration is the name of the game and culture fit is becoming increasingly important for hiring managers. Knowing whether you are a team player and respectful of your peers can be the deciding factor between hiring you or another candidate.

Corporate culture extends far beyond nap pods and pool tables – it stems from shared values and a solid team. Your peers can speak to your ability to bond with your fellow colleagues better than anyone else, and they can speak to how integral you are to your company's culture.

And while co-worker references are going to become requested more and more frequently, manager references will always be important. Feedback from both co-workers and managers creates a more complete picture of a job candidate's prior work performance. Your job references can provide a candid window into the kind of person you are at work.

With this in mind, make sure you choose references that you're confident have an understanding of not only your hard skills, but of your disposition in the office and your work ethic. These are the people who can offer the most compelling case for why you will be a great addition to the team.

So next time your colleague asks you for a favor, you may want to think twice before saying no.

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