The Break Room

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Do's & Don'ts of Professional References

Jan 27, 2015, 15:39 PM by User Not Found

References are an often forgotten, under-appreciated necessity of the job search. We focus so much on resumes and preparing for the interview, that references just don't get the attention they need or deserve. Then when the time comes to hand your references over to a potential employer, we frantically pull something - albeit sloppily - together. But did you know providing a thrown together set of references can easily cost you the job?

So how can you make sure you aren't a victim of committing a reference faux pas? These simple steps will help transform your reference don't into a do!  

DO make a wish list!

Make a list of people you might want to ask for a recommendation. This can be a supervisor, employees you have supervised, or co-workers. Employers will typically ask for two or three references, so once you have your list, it's time to start narrowing it down. And remember to keep a few as backup, depending on the position you are applying for and the capacity in which you worked with them.

DON'T list any Joe Schmoe

Sure, that guy you worked with thought you could tell a mean joke, but that doesn't mean he should make your list. You want your references to be able to highlight your skill set and give a positive view of your work performance. It's okay to be selective here!

DO make contact.

Before listing each of your prospective references on your document, give them a call to ask if they are willing to help you out. If you can catch them in person - even better! Emailing might seem like the easier route, but it can also seem much more impersonal, so save it as a last resort.

DON'T tell, ask.

Calling and telling someone you are listing them as a reference will not be well received. It is unprofessional and gives the impression you do not value their time. Instead, always phrase your request in a manner that is polite - you are asking for a favor, after all.

DO remember to give and get the 411.

When someone has agreed to be a reference, fill them in on the position and company you are applying for. You may be thinking... Well, duh! Thanks Captain Obvious!...but you would be surprised how many people skip this step. Having this information will help your reference provide a quality review of your work as it pertains to the position you are applying. This is also a good time to confirm your reference's job title and contact information you will need for your document. Do we even have to explain how bad it will look to have incorrect contact information for your references?

DON'T overthink your document.

Once you have your references lined up, it's time to prepare your list. Keep it simple. The easiest way to do that is to match the style and fonts used in your resume and cover letter. As for what information to include, list their name, job title, organization, phone number, email and a brief explanation of your relationship. 

DO have your reference list ready to go.

If you have it ready, you won't have to scramble to contact your references or put together a document when the employer asks. Just be sure to never volunteer the list or send it over with your application - unless specifically told to do so.

DON'T forget to follow up.

Send thank you notes (preferably handwritten!) to your references right away. This is a professional gesture that will be greatly appreciated, especially if you'd like to use the reference in the future. Did you get the job? Let them know! They will be just as excited.