References and Recommendations (part 1)

Maria worked at the same company for over five years. But when her youngest went off to college, she decided it was also time for a change for herself. She wanted to change careers, and get a job she would really love. After she updated her resume and cover letter, she began to apply for jobs. Almost immediately she was asked to provide references. Maria began to feel uneasy and not at all prepared. She hadn’t asked anyone to be a reference or provide recommendations. She realized she had lost contact with some of the people who could provide the best reference for her. Maria quickly called me to talk about what to do. She wanted to be prepared going forward.

Last week I talked about Career Independence . Asking for references and recommendations should be a part of your tactical plan for getting a new job, as well as your strategy for maintaining your career independence. Unfortunately, it’s an area we often overlook or neglect (like Maria did), until it becomes time critical. The worst time to pull together your references and recommendations is when you are filling out a job application, or are about to connect with someone on LinkedIn that works at a company you’ve dreamed of working for.

References and Recommendations are different, so let me start with some definitions.

References are the people who are willing to be contacted to give positive feedback regarding your professional work (professional references) or your personal character (personal references).

Recommendations are a written version of the nice things people say about you, your work, and your character. The most common forms of recommendations for the job search are the written letter and the LinkedIn Recommendation.

The rest of this article will talk about References only. Stay tuned next week, and I’ll give you pointers on Recommendations.

Here are three keys to managing your references for your job search, and for your career independence.

  1. Whom should you have as a reference?Only ask people whom you trust and whom you know will say positive things about you to be a reference for you. This may sound obvious, but still worth saying.

    I recommend you maintain a typed References List naming 3-6 professional and 3 personal references. Include their name, current title, relationship to you, and their preferred contact information (phone number, email address, or both).

    First identify your professional references. Think about the people you’ve worked with, at your current job and throughout your career. Think about managers, staff, and peers. A professional reference is anyone who has direct experience and knowledge of your work, your work style, and your strengths at work. Work can be paid work (a fellow employee or former manager) or volunteer work (team leader on a volunteer project, or fellow worker). The ideal breakdown is to have at least 2 manager-type references (people you reported to or worked for), 2 peer references (coworkers), and if you are a manager or team leader, 2 staff references.

    Next identify your personal references. This list can be comprised of friends, fellow volunteers, or co-workers. A personal reference is anyone who can speak to your character or the type of person you are. Ideally you will have 3 of these references.

  2. When should you ask someone to be a reference?I recommend gathering your references and creating your References List before you start actively looking for a new job. As you identify people to put on your list, you must also contact them and ask if they’d be willing to provide a reference for you. When they say yes, you ask them how they prefer to be contacted (email or phone), and update that information on your References List.

    Going forward, any time you have developed a good relationship with someone you work with or work for, you can ask them if they’d be willing to provide a reference for you, should you ever need one. It’s a nice gesture to offer to provide a reference for them as well.

    Also, when you leave a job, make a point of exchanging contact information, connecting on LinkedIn, and asking appropriate individuals if they’d be willing to provide a reference for you, should you ever need one. Again, it’s a nice gesture to offer to provide a reference for them as well.

  3. What do I tell a reference?When you begin to actively apply for jobs, make sure to contact all of the references on your list to let them know they may be contacted.

    It’s also very helpful for the references on your list if you tell them what you want them to say. Now, I don’t mean script their comments, but let them know what strengths and skills you would like them to highlight. Give them information about what the reference is for, what the company might be looking for, and what you want the hiring manager to know about you. Your references want to help you, so the more information you can give them regarding how they can help, the easier it is for them.

Maria ultimately reconnected with several former coworkers and managers, along with some fellow-volunteers from some charity projects she participated in. She created a References List that supported her job search. As she asked for their help, they also asked for hers in return. Now she’s providing references too.

She also gave her references clear information about the types of strengths and skills she hoped they’d highlight to help her get the job she wanted. Going forward, Maria plans to review and refresh her references list every time she updates her resume. That way, she will always feel prepared.

Is your References List up to date? Or does it need work? What steps will you take this week to ensure your References List is current and ready for action?  I invite you to commit to your action  steps below, then let me know how it goes.

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I hired Lori because I was feeling stuck in my job and needed to find a career that was more rewarding, more challenging, and more suited to me.  In the arts, it's difficult to find a job you enjoy that also pays enough to live on, but Lori helped me do just that! 

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