Identifying Your References
Are you graduating this spring? Now is the time to identify your references. Before you begin your search for your first job, fill out an application or send out your first resume you should know by now who you plan to use as your references. Actually, let me go a step further, you should also have confirmed with them whether or not they are willing to be a reference for you.
New grads often put off creating a reference list until the last minute because they are not sure who to choose as a reference. I'm going to relieve some of your anxiety with these basic guidelines for choosing your references.
First, you should know that the standard number of references is three.
Employers want references who can speak directly to your skills. Many reference forms will contain lists of specific skills and will ask your reference to rate you on your performance of those skills. In order to do that the person acting as your reference will need to have some direct knowledge of your performance. The person in the best position to evaluate your new skill set is a preceptor. Your preceptors have been working side by side with you and can attest to your strengths as well as your areas that need further development. Another option is an instructor who does your clinical site visits and has observed you during some clinical encounters.
Employers prefer that references have a similar background and education as the applicant. This means for a new grad the best references come from instructors and/or preceptors. These are the groups of individuals that have the best understanding of what your future job will demand and can best speak to whether or not you are suitable for that position. References from current or former co-workers such as RNs, social workers, etc. are not especially helpful. Supervisors are okay, but their knowledge is limited to how well you performed in your previous role and not your new role. References from non-medical persons should absolutely be avoided.
Employers expect to see at least one person from your NP or PA program among your references. It is a major red flag if a new graduate cannot find anyone from their educational program who is willing to serve as a reference. Now is the time to approach your professors. As discussed above, choose one that has some relevancy to the job you seek and some knowledge of your skills. Don't seek a reference from the professor who taught an online lecture only class.
For practical purposes all of the references you choose should be folks that you think will respond in a timely manner. The disorganized and the procrastinator may be nice people, but they are the wrong people to rely on as a reference. In the lead up to an offer an employer may request references from two to three candidates in order to make the final selection. It's unrealistic to expect the employer to wait around too long for responses from your references. Choosing the preceptor or instructor who has piles of unfinished paperwork accumulating on their desk doesn't bode well for a prompt response.