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Social media a game changer for references

Q. I am senior-level employee looking for a job, and I know references are important. At this level, when are the references checked, and are they looking for certain people to speak on my behalf?

A. The days of providing three to five references are gone. With LinkedIn a key part of the hiring process, any of your connections is fair game to be approached as a reference.

Most hiring organizations will review your contacts and do an informal check on who you are before they invite you for an interview. Making sure that social media information is as positive as possible is the first step. Do not assume that anything online is private.

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Take the time early in your search to develop LinkedIn recommendations from all levels of contacts and have these posted to your profile. To do this effectively, talk to your connections about the area, experience, or skill you would like them to address. Be specific so you can ask them to be specific, too.

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Your goal is to have enough recommendations to showcase your talent from many different angles. In addition, you will want to prepare the references that you plan to provide to employers. Many job seekers put together a list of names, titles, and phone and e-mail contact information. That’s a good start; I recommend adding what the relationship was, over how many years, and at which companies.

Before you decide who to use, ask a few people if they can be a great reference for you. If there is any hesitation, don’t use them. Ask others.

Prepare each reference by providing information on the job and any issues that might have appeared an obstacle in the interview process. Ask your references to contact you after they have spoken on your behalf.

References aren’t random and their preparation can make the difference between getting an offer and being a second choice.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.