One of the most important and misused tools available to job-seekers are their references. In many cases they have the power to make or break your search but most put almost no effort into choosing and managing them.
With a little effort you can help ensure that you will be represented in a positive light by those you choose to speak on your behalf. Here are a few things to consider to help ensure that your references work for you –
Choose them wisely. You need to ensure that your references will say positive things about you and are able to speak about your ability to work and be successful. Current and former supervisors, co-workers, subordinates, and customers are all acceptable as well people that been heavily involved with you on volunteer based projects.
Make sure you have their approval. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that I have been contacted as a reference without knowing that I was being used as one. You always want to get a potential references blessing to be used so there are no surprises for you or them.
Get their BEST contact information. There have been a number of times when I have tried to contact a candidates reference to no avail and then several days later hear back from them with a new phone number for that reference. You need to get the best phone number and email for each reference the first time.
Hide them until you need them and use them sparingly. There are a couple of things that can happen if you give your references up to early and too often (i.e. on every résumé you send out, on every application you fill out, before they are asked for, etc). First, your references may get too many calls and get sick and tired of hearing your name. Secondly, if you give up your references before you have had a chance to sell yourself they might appear more interesting as a candidate than you do.
Stay in continuous contact with them. Are you sure that your references still like you today? Can you be sure that they have not moved to Mexico on a whim? Are you 100% confident that they did not change their mind about being a reference for you? If you don’t communicate with them at least once a week you cannot answer those questions.
Share your résumé with them. If they don’t know what you are saying about your experience, how are they supposed to send a consistent message?
Tell them who is going to call and when to expect it. Whenever someone asks you for your references (remember – hide them as long as possible) your first call (and email) should be to them to let them know the who, when, where, and how of the call they are going to get. If they are expecting a call they will be much better prepared to sell you and your abilities.
Coach them on what to say. Each opportunity and each manager is different so try to give your references some of the inside scoop before they get the call. Additionally – you should tell them about the interviews that you have had with that company so that you all can be on the same page.
Having references is a privilege and not an entitlement so make sure you are respectful of your their time and energy and help them help you be successful. If your references have a good experience assisting you on this search they may also be able to help you the next time you find yourself searching out new opportunities.
Good hunting and good luck!