The Care & Feeding Of Your References

We think of “references” as those three or so people we list when a potential employer asks for someone to call.  But, truly, your references are everyone you ever worked for or with. 


But you still need that list of three (or so).  And you gotta put some effort into grooming these folks: 

1.  You should be maintaining sincere, long-term relationships with all the people who you’d like to say nice things about you.  You can’t just drop them an email the day before you start job hunting to say, I hope you won’t mind if I use you as a reference.  Tacky, tacky.  (And, needless to say, you should never name someone as a reference without asking permission first.)

2.    Without being a pest, keep your references up to date on where you’re applying, and to whom.  They can help you better if they’re in the loop.

3.  “Remind” references of your past jobs and accomplishments.  Give them something specific to talk about when that potential employer phones. 

4.  Ask people to be references for you based on how well they know you and your work.  You will be tempted to choose “important-sounding” people.  But if these people don’t know you from Adam, they won’t be good references for you.

5.  It’s always nice to get letters of recommendation (you know, the “to whom it may concern” kind), but be forewarned that many potential employers may give them short shrift.  They probably want to do their own research.  Still, flashing around a glowing letter can’t hurt!

6.  Keep in mind that references don’t have to be just former supervisors.  Consider former co-workers, clients, customers, teachers, mentors. 

7.  Thank your references.  Write them lovely little notes, whether or not you get the job.  If their recommendation results in you getting that job, or they have in some way gone above and beyond, you might want to send them a gift.  Something appropriately impersonal.  A gift card.  Flowers.  A tasteful mug.   

Keep in mind that a careful employer will call not just the references you name, but other people as well.  That’s why you should treat all your bosses and colleagues and customers as well as you do your references.  It takes a village, baby.

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