Using written references in a powerful way

This week we continue our series showing you how to build your CV step by step. Over the past fortnight, we’ve covered the Personal Profile and Key Achievements, Skills & Attributes sections. This week, we move onto the third part of what will hopefully be your new-look CV – and it involves the unexpected, and powerful, use of a written reference.

We encourage a section called ‘Referee Description’ or ‘Referee Testimony’ underneath your Key Achievements, Skills & Attributes section.

To achieve this, you will need at least one written reference from you career to date – at this point, some of you will say “that’s all well and grand, but I don’t have a written reference.”

In our experience, many people decline to accumulate written references as they travel through their careers. This is a major error. The time to pick up the written reference is the day (metaphorically speaking) you’re leaving.

If you leave it five years, the person who knew you best may have moved on, or the company may have closed.

For the purpose of this column, however, I will presume you have a written reference to hand. Under the heading Referee Description, quote approximately four sentences of ‘good stuff’ from that reference.

This might be:

“John always brought creativity and enthusiasm to his role. His persistence ensured that he fulfilled every task assigned to him, and he was constantly on the lookout for ways in which he could bring additional value to us. He was professional in his dealings with colleagues and customers at all times, and I have no hesitation in recommending him for any position he seeks” – Tony Walsh, General Manager, ABC Ltd.

Make sure the quote shows you in a good light. If it’s a ‘standard issue’ from a HR Department – little more than a confirmation that you turned up for a few years – there’s not much point in quoting from it because it won’t help to sell you. But if you’ve a strong one, use it.

One other thing: always attribute the quote to the exact person who wrote it, and add their title (e.g. Tony Walsh, Marketing Manager, ABC Ltd).

The impact of this section is that, early in your CV, you have someone other than yourself talking you up. It adds a third-party dimension to your CV and, as it is a novel approach, it may capture the positive attention of the employer.

In some instances – particularly larger or multi-national companies – its impact is likely to be diminished as they tend to have their own ways and means of obtaining and assessing references. But, even in that case, it won’t do any harm.

Referee Description can also give your self-confidence a timely boost. The act of writing a CV can force you into a bout of introspection and reflection, and reading back what someone once said about you may put an extra pep in your step.

Final point: if you quote someone in Referee Description, make sure, where possible, to include their contact details under the final section in your CV, your list of Referees.

For a free critique of your CV, simply go here: Sli Nua Careers offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services at their offices in Galway, Dublin and Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. More: