How to Properly Obtain References

Putting together your resume, polishing up a cover letter, and assembling your portfolio are great ways to prepare for your job hunt. But don’t forget about your references. Everyone knows you need references—but how to properly obtain references?

Reference Selection

Prior to your interviews, sit down and think about the folks you’ve worked with in the past who can best speak to your career growth and development. Ideal references are former managers or supervisors. If you are leaving your current job, acquiring that reference may be out of the question. But don’t panic—next in line would be a close work colleague. If this individual does not know that you are soon to set sail, treat her to lunch and break the news now before she is on the receiving end of a phone call for a reference check; that’s one surprise that’s better dished over a patty melt and fries.

Friends and associates are the last option after you’ve exhausted your list of professional references. Aim for three to four professional references, and one or two personal references.

If you work for a large corporation, getting people to provide references who can provide more than just dates of employment may prove difficult. Corporate human resources departments are setting the edict that it’s simply too risky to provide references due to law suits or inconsistencies within the organization. Therefore your current boss or management-level associates may be instructed to simply provide dates of employment versus lengthy descriptions of your work attitude, personality, or ability to play well with others. If this is the case, ask for references from freelance clients or other associates within the firm.

If you’re a freelancer, acquiring references can be a challenge. If you are partnering with a staffing agency, call your recruiter and ask about her ability to provide a reference for you. Clarify if she can provide a “timeline only” reference (verifying only dates of employment) or if she can speak to your punctuality or provide positive feedback about your technical abilities and aptitude on assignments. Additionally, think about long-standing clients that you’ve repeatedly provided excellent design services for—clients make excellent references.

Prepare Your References

People you select to act as references should never be caught off guard, nor should they be left to their own words of wisdom to best promote
your background. It’s important to make sure that your references are comfortable and ready to speak positively on your behalf. Additionally, it’s perfectly acceptable and recommended to coach your references on what you want them to talk about. Are you on the prowl for a leadership role? A change in career direction? Guide your reference so they know how to best promote your background.

Provide as much time as possible for your friend or associate to gather her thoughts and put together your reference. The quicker the turn-around, the more preparation and guidance you should give them.

Reference Letters and Testimonials

In addition to contact names and numbers, professional letters of reference or testimonials provide credibility to your background during a job search. Asking a fellow associate to create a letter of reference out of the blue requires a certain amount of finesse along with a little preparation on your part. Staring at a blinking cursor wondering what on earth to say about a previous employee’s or friend’s accomplishments is not the easiest thing to do—nor is it high on anyone’s priority list.

Prior to making these requests, draw up a template or go online to select from the plethora of reference letter and testimonial samples. Provide as much time as possible for your reference to craft this lovely letter of recommendation along with specific points you want them to cover.

Once you’re on the job market, keep your letters and testimonials current. Recommendations dating back from your college years in 1996 are really pushing it. Keep letters designated to this decade. The archaic letters are now meant to be cherished in your career scrapbook and replaced with more current and relevant examples.

Show Some Gratitude

Despite the fact that you’re 100% focused on getting your new job, take a few moments to show some gratitude to those who have provided references on your behalf. A hand-written thank you note is the least you can do to thank someone—at least pick up the phone to call them or shoot them an email letting them know how things went. Common courtesy will pay you back dividends during your job search.

It only takes a few minutes to prepare people to create proper references for you. Take the time to prepare and these references will help pave the way for your next job offer. Best of luck!

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