Developing a Strong Reference List
by The Creative Group
The results of a reference check often determine who among top contenders will be offered the job. Yet many candidates take a reactive approach to this process, doing little legwork to ensure their recommendations are as strong as the rest of their application materials. A little planning and strategy, however, can go a long way toward building a strong and reliable reference list. Here are some tips:
- Consider your options. When selecting your references, consider whose input would best complement the position for which you are applying. People who can speak about the traits and qualities you possess that directly relate to the role are your best bet. For example, if you are applying for an account coordinator opening, identify someone who can attest to your strong writing, proofreading and organizational skills (e.g., a public relations manager who has seen your work and is familiar with your strengths and weaknesses).
Instructors, mentors, members of the PRSA chapter to which you belong, or anyone you’ve volunteered for (like a neighbor whom you helped create a branded Facebook page for) can serve as strong references. The key is to pick people who know the value of your work and will speak positively of you – not just those with big job titles who may not know you very well.
- Find your biggest fans. In many cases, the fastest and most effective way to determine who will sing your highest praises is to contact potential references yourself. This can help you identify the references you want and weed out those you don’t. Have a candid conversation with them and ask what they thought of your work, specifically, and what they view as your strengths. If you have to fish too hard to draw these details out, they may not be the ideal references.
You also want to ensure that your references feel comfortable speaking highly of you. If you receive a tepid response during your initial outreach, or your contacts seem especially busy, consider using someone else for a recommendation. Individuals who quickly return phone calls and are enthusiastic about your capabilities make the most positive impression.
- Provide options. If you’ve been asked for a set number of references, it’s a good idea to provide a couple more than requested. This way, if the employer is unable to reach one or two of your contacts, he or she may continue trying to reach others on your list. When short-staffed, many hiring managers are pressured to move quickly and if your references are constantly unavailable you may miss out on the job offer.
- Make it easy on the hiring manager. Provide clear contact information for your references and a brief explanation of the nature of your relationship with each person. For best results, give your references’ names, titles, daytime telephone numbers and email addresses, and the times when they are most accessible. Then describe how you know each of them (e.g., “copy editing instructor for two semesters”). One caveat: Do not provide a reference’s personal contact information, such as a home telephone or cell phone number, unless you are given permission to do so.
- Give references a “heads up.” Hiring managers can usually sense when a reference is caught off guard, and it may cause them to question your planning or communication ability. Each time you submit a reference list to a prospective employer, let your contacts know. Provide them an updated copy of your resume, and explain the company and position you applied for, as well as who might be calling them.
- Express appreciation. Always thank those who offer to speak on your behalf – even if they aren’t contacted by hiring managers. Also, keep them updated on the status of your job search. Once you are hired, thank your references again for their assistance with a hand-written note.
Devoting time to the reference process enables you to not only strengthen your chances of landing a position but also expand your professional network. By keeping in close touch with those who recommend you – even after you’ve settled into a new job – you create a strong contact base that can help you throughout your career.
The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and TCG’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at creativegroup.com.