9 ways your references can help you land your next job

Careerist: Should You Ever Give a Bad Reference?

You're going for a new job, so you've dusted off your resume, written a great cover letter, and pulled out your list of references. But before you send your prospective new employer to your go-to list of cheerleaders, ask yourself one question: Am I sure my references are helping me?

"I can't tell you the number of times over 43 years I've been doing that, that I've had someone's references screw the candidate's chances to get the job," says Anthony W. Beshara, PhD, president of Babich & Associates, a Dallas recruitment and placement firm.

Get your references interview-ready with these nine tips.


Typically, you may be asked for two or three references, but you should have a much deeper pool than that, Beshara says. Pick and choose your references depending on the type of job you're going for, he says. Some references will be able to discuss your effectiveness in certain roles, while others may be able to discuss your leadership or team-building skills. Choose the right people to talk about the skills you need to highlight to get the job at hand, he says.


Always ask your references for permission before sending a prospective hiring manager to them, even if they've agreed previously, says career expert Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions. Let them know who will be contacting them and whether it will be by phone or email. If you have a sense of when the hiring manager will be contacting them, that's useful too, and helps avoid delays due to your reference being out of the office or not prioritizing a return call, because he or she doesn't know who the hiring manager is, Beshara adds.


If you've got a good rapport with your references, it might be a good idea to ask them what they will say about you, says Jill Jacinto, associate director of WORKS, a career-focused media company. That does two things: First, it gives you insight into whether the reference intends to discuss areas that will be important for the hiring manager to hear.

Second, it gives you a sense of whether the reference is a persuasive advocate on your behalf. Both pieces of information are important to be sure you're connecting hiring managers with people who will make the case that you're the right person for the job, she says.


Oliver says it's a good idea to remind your references of some of your key accomplishments and even suggest some of the areas they might highlight. It may have been a while since you worked for or with your reference, and he or she may appreciate the reminder, which can be as simple as writing an email message with a few bullet points of your accomplishments, she says.

"You want people to say something substantive. You don't want your references saying, 'Yeah. She's a great person," Oliver says. Vague endorsements do nothing for you.

Beshara once had a client whose references raved about his ability to sell to big customers. Since the job was focused on regional and not national accounts, the reference wasn't relevant and the client wasn't hired, he says.


Ask your references to focus on outcomes rather than attributes, Oliver says. You may need to help them remember specifics about what you did, depending on how long it's been since you worked with them. Discussing the impact you had on the organization will be more impressive than the tasks you performed, she says. It's more impressive to say that you turned around a crisis situation or met several key performance metrics than it is to say that you're a dependable team player.


While you're in touch with the reference, it might be a good idea to ask for a LinkedIn review too, Jacinto says. Tread carefully to be sure you're not asking for too much. However, if the reference is happy to hear from you and enthusiastic about your success, scoring a LinkedIn reference captures his or her feedback for you to use as long as you wish, she says.


Oliver says it can also be a good idea to follow up with the reference after he or she is contacted and ask how the exchange went. You may get important clues about what the hiring manager is looking for by the questions he or she asks, and follow up accordingly with additional information about yourself.


If you didn't get the job, it's common practice to discuss why with the prospective employer. Don't be afraid to ask questions about how influential your references were. This type of feedback can help you know whether your favored references are helping you, need more coaching, or should be taken out of your reference rotation entirely, Oliver says.


Don't just contact your references when you need them to vouch for you for your next job or gig, Beshara says. Like all good relationships, you need to show them that you appreciate what they've done for you, and try to help them, too. If you're only in touch when you need something, your references might not be so eager to vouch for you in the future. Plus, keeping in touch with them might lead to being considered for openings at their companies, too.

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9 ways your references can help you land your next job

1. Email signature.

Your email signature is possibly one of the most important branding tools you're not taking advantage of. It’s your chance to let everyone know what your expertise is, how to contact you and where to learn more about you online. Employees are often required to add the company logo, tag line and contact information to email signatures. As job seekers, an email signature is a subtle way to remind people what you do.

Quick tips: The most important information to include is your name, phone number, email address, desired occupation and link to your LinkedIn profile. An easy solution is to use an app like WiseStamp to create and insert your signature.

(Photo: Getty)

2. Active and robust LinkedIn presence. 

LinkedIn has become a go-to source for companies of all sizes to seek out talent. While your profile will be similar to your résumé, it is not exactly the same. LinkedIn is a social network where people share information. Besides having a profile rich in content and media, you should also share newsworthy articles to help build your online reputation and stay connected with your network.

Quick tips: You must have a headshot, a headline that describes what you do and a summary where you tell your story. But don’t stop there. Embed a presentation that summarizes your experience or includes testimonials. Have you downloaded the SlideShare app for LinkedIn? What about the LinkedIn Connected or Pulse apps? ​These tools give you a better mobile LinkedIn experience.

(Photo: Getty)

3. An easily accessible, on-the-go résumé

There will be occasions when someone wants you to send your résumé ASAP or when you arrive at an interview and your résumé is MIA. Save your résumés so you can easily access them and share them from your mobile device.

Quick tip: Being able to access important documents from anywhere is critical not only in your job search, but at work, too. Learn how to save and share documents using Dropbox or Google Drive, which provide free storage and are easily accessible from any device.

(Photo: Getty)

4. Business cards. 

This may seem old-fashioned, but business cards make life easier. When you meet someone new or reconnect with an old friend, just hand him or her your card at the end of the conversation.

Quick tip: Your business card need only include the information you want to share: your name, occupation (or desired occupation), phone number, email address and links to any social media profiles, like your LinkedIn URL. If you want to use something more high-tech, try one of the apps that allows you to share your card from your phone, like CardDrop. Or pick up a business card with FullContact’s Card Reader.

(Photo: Getty)

5. Your perfected pitch.

You only have one chance to make a great first impression. Don’t blow it. You’ll need it when you meet people and they ask what you do. You’ll also need one customized for every interview you take. Your pitch conveys what problem you can solve for an employer. Use words and language to ensure your unique style and personality come through. And avoid résumé-speak or jargon that isn’t universally understood.

Quick tip: Keep your pitch under a minute, and practice so it sounds natural. If you need some guidance, check out the myPitch app created by Karalyn Brown of InterviewIQ.

(Photo: Getty)

6. Target list of potential employers.

Rather than searching job boards all day, looking for the perfect job and getting lost in the black hole of applications, why not approach people inside companies you would like to work for? This route is more work up front, but it will help you stand out and rise to the top of the referral pile if you make the cut.

Quick tip: There are tons of apps for finding posted jobs, but what you really need is additional help networking. Don’t miss Alison Doyle’s new app called Career Tool Belt. It's loaded with job hunting tips, including the 30 Days to your Dream Job series to guide you day by day.

(Photo: Getty)

7. A dose of motivation.

Job searching tends to lead to frustration. Rejection is an unfortunate part of the process. Invest time doing things that rejuvenate your energy and keep you feeling hopeful, such as exercising, volunteering or learning a new skill. Keep moving forward and create to-do lists and follow-up actions every day.

Quick tip: Whether you use a calendar system or an organizational app like Any.do, mapping out your weekly activities helps maintain momentum and puts you in the driver’s seat.

(Photo: Getty)


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