Job references. Yes, we know. We can almost hear you groaning. Probably because, as much as you dislike having to make the necessary arrangements to get them, you know that it is “difficult” (i.e., virtually impossible) to get a job without good, if not great, job references. We say “make the necessary arrangements” because there’s more to getting references than simply asking for them. Obtaining great job references requires planning, diligence, attention to detail and never taking anything for granted.
Here, then, are some important things to remember when considering which people you would like to provide a reference about your skills and accomplishments, personal and character attributes and/or any intangibles that might be of benefit to a prospective employer.
- The saying “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission” should never be relied upon when dealing with job references. Absolutely, positively contact your prospective references to make sure that they are ready, willing and able to speak to potential employers. Whether you ask via telephone, email, over lunch or by way of LinkedIn, for example, give them the opportunity to decline. And no matter what, don’t ask at the last minute.
- It’s not who you know, it’s how well you know who you know. Don’t ask anyone you aren’t certain will be positive and helpful to your job search. Unenthusiastic individuals are not likely to present a compelling case for you and are better left unused.
- Testing, 1-2-3, testing. When you ask someone to be a reference, pay attention to the response. Is there hesitation? Is the response “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that” or some other effort to find an exit? If so, give that person a way out and find someone else.
- How to ask the ask. As tempting as it may be to simply request “Would you be a reference for me?”, you can do better. Try “Are you comfortable enough with my work to provide me with a reference?” Not only is the comfort of the person doing you this favor important, so too is making it easy for them. Let them know whether you’re relying on them as a technical reference or as someone who can speak to your demeanor, attitude and character. Remind them of special projects or accomplishments in your past that it would be helpful for them to mention to prospective employers. This will help him/her better prepare for the types of questions that might be forthcoming.
- Breaking news. If a reference isn’t someone associated with your current/most recent job, you’ll need to update them on what’s been going on with you since you last worked for them. Give them access to your LinkedIn profile. Provide them a copy of your current resume and highlight the responsibilities that are similar to those you performed while working with/for your common employer.
- Stay in touch. No matter how busy you are, it is always recommended that you stay connected to those you consider important in your professional world, regardless of whether you expect to use them as job references at some point in time. First of all, you never know when you might need a good word from someone you never contemplated. Secondly, it’s difficult to ask for a favor out of the blue. Asking for a reference from someone with whom you haven’t spoken in years can be awkward and may not generate the enthusiastic response you’d like. Third, it enables you to keep tabs on people you may need to call upon, ensuring you know how to get in touch with them.
Getting job references is an important component of any job search. In fact, it may end up being the determining factor.