Of the numerous ways organizations assess job applicants, references continue to hold a substantial amount of weight. When going through job vacancies, a well-planted reference list (say from a previous employer or a notable person in your field) can actually help you get the job of your dreams.
If you don’t prepare your professional references properly, you could be making a costly mistake. Here are a few tips to best cultivate your references:
Choose references based on the position you are applying for
Depending on the specific job you are applying for, it can be beneficial to go beyond your usual references (such as your former manager) and include references from previous clients who were greatly impressed by your work. Additionally, if you have volunteered for different activities, think about including references of directors of non-profit organizations who have directly witnessed your work and character.
Think before you approach
Your professional references should be treated exactly as that, and not as a personal assistant or career coach. Before approaching a prospective reference, take a moment to think about your last interaction with them, how you have transformed after your last meeting with them, and also about what they need to know about you now in order to act as a positive professional reference.
Avoid blind reference checks
Many individuals do not ask their references before actually listing them as a reference, which leads to blind reference checks where the person learns that he or she has been listed as someone’s reference, only after receiving a call for the check. This is never good for you as a candidate, for your potential employer, and especially for the person involved as reference.
There is one other thing to consider pertinent to this matter: the person you are looking to add on your reference list may have changed professions, as a result of which their contacts might have also changed. In such cases, you may be directing your potential employer to an outdated contact as reference. It is always wise to contact the respective person beforehand and ask them if they would like to serve as your professional reference and make sure their contact details are the same.
Approaching and connecting with your professional references need not be limited to simply asking them to be your reference. Try to be available to them right from when you start your job search, because with their contacts, they may be aware of job openings in your field and also they may be able to help you attain a suitable job as well.
On the other hand, have an honest conversation with the person about the differences or issues you had when working with them, that actually prevented the both of you from collaborating effectively, and also admit how you have changed and share about your accomplishments over the years. Also remember to express your gratitude for everything you were able to learn during that job. This needs some courage, but when you converse openly, you would be able to evaluate whether or not to include the person on your reference list.
Pass on the status
Constantly communicate and pass on the status of your job interview to your references through short messages, emails, or simple voice messages. If you are shortlisted as one of the finalists, let them know. Also, talk to them about the whole interview process and your answers for the questions you were asked during the interview, as this will help them understand the type of questions they can expect to be asked.
Always express gratitude
During certain stages of your job search, say when a potential employer releases you from the interview process – when you are no longer interested in a position, if you are planning to quit the job, or when you are hired – remember to thank everyone who accepted to serve as your reference. Sending them a handwritten thank you card or an email, treat them to lunch, or make a phone call: everything matters. Also consider sending a quick note after a few months of accepting a job offer, and thank your reference for their part in helping you secure the job and share some unique aspects that you absolutely love about your new position. This goes a long way and will be remembered and appreciated.