I work in the recruitment field, which means I’ve had to call on many professional references. While a lot of them offer honest, positive feedback about the person in question, it doesn’t always help the job seeker’s cause. Why? Because even an incredibly glowing review might neglect to showcase relevant skills and talents—actual qualifications for the job. So I’m left with a credible referral that, unfortunately, doesn’t carry much weight.
How can you avoid being let down by well-meaning references? Even though you wish you could just hand them a script, it’s important to show them the utmost respect for their judgment and appreciation for their time and assistance.
But, luckily, there are a few things you can do that will encourage them to give you the recommendation that you really need:
My cardinal rule for references is to get permission—and this is not optional. If you failed to get a go-ahead from those who you are hoping to provide referrals, all remaining tips will be for naught.
So let’s assume that you’ve done your homework, the request has been made and the person you’ve asked has gladly accepted. At the very least, you should provide your references with a fresh copy of your résumé. More specifically, it should be a copy of the résumé that you used for the position in question. Nothing is more awkward than when a reference isn’t aware that you’ve left a specific employer or completed a degree/certification.
Take a few minutes to discuss the job you’re applying for and explain why you think you’re the best candidate. Your references should be able to back up and, in some cases, provide additional details or support that you omitted during the interview process. Give them specific examples that you believe align well with the new opportunity.
The most important thing to remember is that your references should have observed these situations firsthand. This isn’t a time to tell them a new story, but rather reinvigorate their memories of you. If there was a certain project that you worked on that showcases a particular skill set and your reference can elaborate and verify such an accomplishment, walking back down memory lane will likely set the stage for an excellent reference check.
In a perfect world, each and every open position would be filled in two weeks or less. Unfortunately, as much as we want things to be perfect, life has a funny way of throwing curveballs (e.g. slow requisition approval, illness and even general indecision). With that in mind, it’s not uncommon for several weeks to pass between the time you first meet with a recruiter and when someone reaches out to your references.
Provide them some insight as to where you are in the process and what has gone well. If you have any new information about why this role is perfect, pass it on to your references.
While saying thank you won’t help guide or influence a reference after they’ve been contacted, it will pay dividends the next time you call upon them. This doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair, but you should provide a sincere thank you. After all, you’ve asked this person to vouch for you, to put their name and reputation on the line in an effort to help you further your career.
While it may not always be necessary, some simple coaching around who you are today and why you think you’ll be a great fit in the new role can help your references provide a more strategic picture of you.
Remember, a great reference can be the key that unlocks opportunity’s door.