References – Part I

This is going well. You’ve cleared the phone screen, had an interview, and done okay on some testing. You’re feeling pretty good. Then the recruiter turns to you and says, “Can you give me some references?” Now what!?!

In a perfect world you’d reach into your portfolio (or pad, briefcase, what-have-you) and pull out a professional reference list. This would have the same look and feel as your resume and cover letter. On the list would be three to five names with their job titles, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. You’d hand that to the recruiter and say “here you go.”

It doesn’t always work like that, but that’s your goal. The hard question is, who are those people?

As you begin you job search you need to start lining up your references. You want to build a database of people, ideally 10 to 15. Find people who can talk about your work and work habits in a sincerely positive way. You need a few supervisors who can talk about you as an employee. You need a few coworkers who have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with you. You need a few subordinates (if you’ve had any) who can describe what kind of a boss you are. You could also use a few customers – either internal or external – people who you served in some capacity. An executive mentor would be nice to talk about how you are improving your skills. Finally you need some personal references – maybe a college professor, pastor, good friend, or someone you’ve volunteered with (or for).

You need to approach each of these people with the same request, “can you help me?” Tell them that you are looking for a job and that you’d like them to serve as a reference for you. Talk about the types of things they might say about you. Make sure to gather their personal contact information. Then build your list. Put everybody on that page, organize them by category – boss, peer, subordinate, etc. Then file that away (do not print that version).

You can then go about your search being prepared. When you schedule a face-to-face interview or get a request for references then you being the next phase. Examine both your list of references and the job you are applying for, and pick the references that can provide feedback that is most closely linked to what that company needs to know about you. Delete the others and print that reference list of three to five people. One last thing, before you hand that list to the recruiter, send an email to each person on the list telling them that you will be giving their name to XYZ Company. That way they can expect to be contacted by the company and be prepared to answer the phone or recognize an odd email address.

As with all facets of your job search the key is to be prepared. Solicit your references, get them from all facets of your professional experience, know what they are going to say, warn them before you use them, and present them to the hiring manager in a fashion that is professional and consistent with your other search documents. You can do that – now let’s get out and find that job!

In a future post I’ll talk about the other side of references – being one for someone else.     



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