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How to Effectively Manage Your References

Congrats! You’ve impressed a hiring manager with your strong resume, industry expertise, and professional acumen, and now, they’re finally ready to move onto the final stages of the interview process by checking your references.   At this point, the decision is out of your hands, and it’s your references’ turn to wow the employer, right?  After all, aren’t references just a formality?

In reality, the truth is quite the contrary.  This nonchalant attitude about references, a common mistake made by jobseekers, can cost you the job – it only takes one bad or inconsistent reference!  To ensure all your references can give you glowing reviews and help you secure employment, here are a number of steps you should take before the employer starts making their calls:

Get Organized and Start Early 

The onboarding process can either move slowly or quickly, and because of its unpredictability, it’s always best to be prepared with references ahead of time, before you start applying.  To do this, think about your internships, past jobs, volunteer experiences (yes, they count too!), etc. and create an Excel document that lists all the people who know your work well: supervisors, co-workers, employees you managed, etc.  In the document, create columns for their title, their relationship to you, their contact info (email and phone #), and specific projects you worked on with them.

Choose Your References and Start Reaching Out

For each job you apply to, you should go through your list of potential references and choose the 2 or 3 that you think would be the most relevant to the position.  Next, reach out to that potential reference by phone, if possible (it’s much more personal and immediate).  When speaking to them, remind them who you are and what you worked together on, and explain what you have been up to.

When it’s time to ask them to be your reference, remember to always nicely ask, if they would be comfortable acting as your reference, so they can decline if they aren’t, and you can peruse much stronger referencesIf they do agree, quickly follow up with an email with more specific details about the position you’re applying to and why you think the role would be a great fit for you, so your reference can anticipate what to say in their recommendation.

*Note 1: There may be certain circumstances when an employer specifically asks for a reference from a co-worker, supervisee, or client.  When choosing who to ask for a reference, always consider your relationship with them: Did you work well together? Can they comment on your strengths and your accomplishments? Do they have great things to say about your managing style?

**Note 2:  If you are asking a current co-worker or client as a reference, always approach them with discretion, and only ask if you are confident you can trust them (with both your job search and your job).

Prepare Your List

Once you have confirmed your 2-3 references, create a simple document that lists all the relevant information the employer would need to know about them (name, title, contact info, etc.).  Bring this document with you to all your interviews, so this way, if the hiring manager asks you for your references, you’ll be prepared and look organized.

Follow Up

You should write a thank you note to a reference, just as you would write a thank you note to an interviewer.   The perfect time to do this is immediately after you submit their name as a reference, so they can be prepared when the hiring manager calls.  To maintain an ongoing relationship with your references, always express your appreciation and update them on the status of your job search, regardless of whether or not you got the position.  If you didn’t get the position, or decided not to take it, now that they know you’re on the job hunt, they may be willing to connect you with other interesting opportunities.  You never know!

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