5 Steps to Securing Great References

Things are looking great for your job search! You got past the screening process with a strong cover letter and resume, impressed the hiring manager during your interview(s), and now they want to check your professional references! That means you have the job, right? Not so fast. Contrary to the popular belief that the reference check is something that companies only complete right before they extend an offer, your references can hold a lot of weight in an employer’s final decision.

In fact, prospective employers are reaching out to your professional references to measure how your interview performance aligns with what they have to say about your skills and working relationships. In fact, a CareerBuilder survey found that 69% of employers surveyed said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference. So, to avoid missing out on an opportunity because of a weak recommendation, follow these steps to secure great references throughout your job search.

1. Reconnect with your references regularly

Throughout your professional career, you never want to be seen as someone who only reaches out to your network when you need something. The same rule should apply to connecting with your references; it’s important to maintain regular communication in order to establish a genuine, mutually beneficial professional relationship. For example, send potential references a quick email with an interesting article you came across, or give them a call to find out how things are going. Try to make it part of your routine to reconnect with any potential reference every few months, as doing this periodically will let people in your network know that when you ask for a reference, you’re not reconnecting solely for a favor.

2. Ask first before you submit

There’s no better way to negatively impact your relationship with references than by having a prospective employer catch them unprepared to speak about you. As a rule of thumb, you should always ask permission to submit someone’s name as a reference before you are asked by the employer to provide professional references. You should try to confirm their availability and ability to vouch for you first. For instance, a scheduling conflict you were unaware of could affect your reference’s ability to speak. Additionally, avoid coming off as unprofessional by always asking nicely if they would be comfortable speaking about your skills and professional relationship. After all, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable acting as your reference, it’s better to give them the opportunity to decline, so that you can secure stronger references.

3. Manage your recommendations

If you are in search of your next opportunity, a best practice is to manage your references based on the relationship (e.g., personal, professional, volunteer, academic, etc.) you shared. We recommend that you create a “master list” that breaks down each of your reference’s profiles by name, title, contact info, relationship, and time period worked together to avoid overusing certain references for every job you apply to. As a result, your ability to effectively manage your references will allow you to carefully leverage them in the best possible way for certain roles throughout your search.

4. Give your references detailed job descriptions

The best way for your reference to confidently highlight your professional profile is by giving them a clear idea of the role you’re interviewing for. Once you confirm which references you will reach out to, be sure to provide them with a description of the position you’ve asked them to be a reference for, in addition to an updated resume. The better prepared they are to speak to your strengths that are in-line with your prospective role, the more likely you are to receive a strong recommendation.

5. Follow up with a “thank you” note

Common courtesy is to say “thank you” to someone who takes the time out of their day to do you a favor. So as a sign of gratitude, send them a quick email or letter thanking them for their help whether or not you get the role. This will sit well with your reference and may make them more likely to help you again in the future.