The references you provide to the employer for the job you REALLY WANT are more important than you imagine. A missing in action reference can really kill your chances of a job offer, especially if the choice between you and another candidate is a close one.
Before we get to the nuts and bolts of how to ask for a reference, it is important to understand that you should NOT:
- Use the same references for every job. Some of your references may have more knowledge about the specific skills you would like to highlight than others.
- Include your references with your resume without being asked. You want to know if and when the employer will be calling your reference so you can give him/her a heads up (many people don’t answer their phones if they don’t recognize the number and many employers won’t leave a message).
- Assume your references will know what to say. They WANT to help, but make sure they really do – give them an idea of what they should say.
Now the nuts and bolts.
- Think about the job you are applying for. What skills and abilities will the employer be likely to ask about? What is the employer contact’s communication style or company culture like? Consider whether it will likely be a call, email or a formal mailed request to your reference and determine who would be the best match.
- Who would be the best person to speak to your skills that are desired by the employer? Not all of your references know about all of your great skills and abilities. Likely, one or two have a more intimate or direct knowledge and could more convincingly speak to them. Consider their overall communication skills.
- Write a letter of reference for them to refer to. I know. I hear the same response from everyone I say this to. Later, I get thank you notes, flowers from pandaflowers.ca/edmonton, and money – well, at least a mea culpa or two! This works. It also helps to prepare YOU for upcoming interviews if you do this while you are in job search mode (which I recommend).
- Contact your references by phone or in person. Don’t just email them and wait for a response. You are asking this person for a favor. Show the respect they deserve and take a more personal approach to the request. Make sure you have all of their correct contact information and titles while you are at it!
- Provide your references with a copy of your resume, the job announcement, and your written letter of reference. If you provide them with this information they will be better prepared to provide all of the appropriate information and give more thought to how they can best help you. Your references might even come up with more pertinent information than you gave them.
- Ask if the people you contact would be willing to provide a reference for this job AND to write a letter of reference for you. Why not? You are already asking for them to serve as a reference and giving them all the info they need. Ask them to take an extra step and provide you with a letter of reference you can use for other positions. Of course, you would be happy to provide an electronic version of the one you wrote for them in case any of that information would help!
Bonus: Follow up with a thank you note and make sure they have all your current contact information. You can never have too many good connections or good will. Make an effort and others will as well. Good luck!