More often than not you’ll be asked to provide a reference from a former employer or university professor when applying for a job.
You’d be surprised how often hiring professionals come across recommendations that either don’t fit the current job requirements, “John was the best fry cook we ever had,” when John is applying in IT; are obviously rushed, “Jane was great!”; or were done by someone who barely knew the person, “Kate was an excellent receptionist,” when her name is spelt Katy.
You don’t want this to happen to you, so let’s have a look at some of the things you can do to make sure you avoid the most common pitfalls and have a reference that ensures you get the job you want.
Make Sure They (Still) Know You
This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure that the person you’re referring your prospective employer to knows you. Don’t refer them to the manager of an entire region when you never met him, but refer them to your direct supervisor (or hers, in a pinch). Also, make sure that they are still there when you refer to them.
It can be embarrassing and may even blow your chances if the manager that really liked you has moved on to new opportunities themselves. Also, think about this before you put their name down: Are they really going to say nice things about you? Do they remember you well, there? The best way to find out is to make a call or send an email so as to…
Refresh Their Memory
Pick up the phone, open up your laptop and get in touch with your references before you say that they’ll vouch for you. It’s a normal part of modern business practice to stay in touch, even if it’s just a one-sentence note, so you should be doing this regularly anyway.
You will occasionally come across people who simply have forgotten you, but don’t be deterred and just press on; worst-case scenario they will pretend that they know you and help you out of a sense of embarrassment. The end-goal is to ask them to help you out, so make sure you work toward that. Part of the call is to ask people if they are willing to be a reference or write you a letter, and they are more likely to say yes if you establish some common ground.
Explain What You Need Them To Say
Another important part of the request is telling them what needs to be said, although many will ask you what kind of reference you want. In the earlier case of the fry cook trying to get into IT, have your former boss emphasize your team spirit or quick grasp of situations and not your amazing endurance in a hot working environment.
Sometimes you will be given the opportunity to write your own letter and have them sign it, in which case you should do so but without blowing your own horn too loudly; you don’t want to appear overly narcissistic. This is an ongoing relationship, so don’t blow it. This brings us to the final point…
Don’t Forget To Thank Them
Really, even if the job you applied for doesn’t work out, thank your references. They took time out of their (presumably) busy schedule to help you out and some gratitude is in order. In this day and age, with job-hopping becoming almost the default setting you’re going to need your references again at some point, so make sure that they’re still willing to help you out in the future.
Regularly update them on your progress in life and ask them how they’re doing. Stay in touch and reciprocate their needs where you can.
Good luck with the job search!