Ten Steps to Preparing Top-Notch References

by Taub, Rob Wednesday, January 20, 2010
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It Pays to Groom Your References

Grooming your references is essential; knowing exactly where you stand and avoiding surprises can be the make-it or break-it in a search. A little time with a reference can result in great returns.

10 Steps (“Yes, Another 10-Stepper”) for Preparing Your References to Work for You

1. First, phone or visit your references. Demonstrate the importance of your request my investing your time.

2. Ask for their permission even if you feel it goes without saying that they will help. Get a commitment for an enthusiastic endorsement; but make sure they understand it is okay to decline and it can still be business as usual (if not now, perhaps another time).

3. Compliment your reference. Communicate a sincere recognition of their accomplishments or their importance…that you think a lot of their success. You could say something like, “I’ve always admired your professionalism in business and hold the highest regard for your contributions to the industry.”

4. Most people know only a part of your background, so consider different references to speak to different areas of your background, experience, skill sets and accomplishments. Be sure you know who’s who and what before you meet, so you can be sure to give each the appropriate overview.

5. Provide a copy of your resume and go over the area of experience you feel they could endorse most enthusiastically. Prepare ahead to talk to them about the specific area and ask for their suggestions and advice. It’s flattering, even elevating, to be asked for advice.

6. Share. Together, shape the key selling points you want your reference to discuss. This will increase their retention and combine nicely with your resume. It’s also helpful to discuss types of roles and companies that are of interest to you and show them how your resume can be a script when they “perform”.

7. It will be helpful to develop a list of likely questions potential employers may ask. One (scary) question could be, “Can you explain to me the circumstances around h/her leaving your company?” You better be in sync! Another question may be, “Can you give me a general idea of the direction you see h/her career heading?” Or, “Would you rehire h/her?” Prepare careful answers and discuss them. After all, this will make helping you a lot easier for them.

8. Your references are likely to be busy people. Assure them you will respect their time and might only use them a few times, now and then…and mean it! They will not be very enthusiastic on the tenth call.

9. Avoid giving references to employment/personnel agencies. Personnel people may see them as potential targets for their own business and you could find yourself with “burned bridges”. Remember, you need to protect your references. At the Executive level it is different, and you should expect to provide references to Executive search companies; but then, only if mutual interest has been established.

10. Finally, after you call or visit, send a follow-up letter expressing your appreciation and highlighting a few of the key (positive) points that can be said about you. After that, remember to keep your references updated during the interview process with a call or visit, if and when you submit their name so they aren’t taken by surprise. You may even suggest they keep your resume by their phones to make it easier for them to respond quickly and too, save them time. They will appreciate that.

The easier you make this for your references the happier they will be. Everyone likes to help others, they just don’t always know how. Although they will do their best, it isn’t always best for you. The 10 points herein will help them help you and create good chemistry along the way. When the chemistry is good between you and your references, odds are they will be much better references. Again, grooming your references is essential. You must know exactly where you stand and they should too, so that surprises are avoided.