NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Jotham Ny works as an auditor at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Manhattan, and as a manager he has to provide references for his subordinates. 

“I believe in being politically correct, because you never know when someone who worked under you will wind up your boss,” said the 33-year-old. “It’s a small world.”

His input, largely positive, carries huge weight: the feedback that prospective employers receive from a candidate’s references can make the difference between a job offer and a rejection. 

“The top three common areas that most Millennials need to improve for stellar references are interpersonal skills, listening skills and following through on action that is asked of you,” said Debbie Silverman, a human behavior expert and president with Consumer-Perspective.

More than 1.6 million students will graduate from college this year, and many will soon be searching for their first post-college jobs.

“In a tough job market, you can find an edge by showing your proficiency in the key problem areas that job references commonly identify,” said Ray Bixler, CEO with SkillSurvey, a job reference assessment firm in Wayne, Pa.  “If you’re a job seeker and you’re already showing strengths in these areas, make sure your teachers, past managers and other references know them and are willing to discuss them when asked.”

Job references consistently rate candidates highest on values such as trustworthiness, respect for diversity, ethics and integrity, according to a SkillSurvey study.

“These really are the soft skills that can make or break someone’s success on the job,” Bixler told MainStreet. “These qualities often help determine if someone will be productive, easy to work with and will ultimately help your organization succeed. It’s easy to measure hard skills based on experience and training, but it’s harder to understand whether a candidate possesses these critical soft skills.”

Other common areas include dedication to doing a good job, taking responsibility and being dependable.

“The key is to gain the confidence of co-workers by consistently stepping up to take on new tasks and performing them well,” said Bixler. “Each job well done is a building block in cultivating personal brand in the workplace.”

Sometimes even the smallest task completed in a timely manner can be the most memorable to supervisors.

“Millennials can show that they are responsible and dependable by getting the job done and completing it on time or even in advance,” Silverman told MainStreet.

When a job reference leads to employment, taking time to acknowledge the helpful person’s contribution can solidify an emerging professional alliance.

“The best way to show gratitude to people who write a reference is to thank them in a hand written letter,” said Silverman. “Let them know that you appreciate their time and their kind words.”

Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet