References 101: The Secret to Winning the Job | Lindsey Pollak's Blog

References 101: The Secret to Winning the Job

References 101: The Secret to Winning the JobAre your ears burning? I know why: An HR person or recruiter is calling your references. Maybe you applied for a new job, or maybe someone’s got an eye on you and he or she is calling around doing intel.

References are a very important step in the job-search process. Most companies do a deep dive into a candidate’s background before making an offer. And that’s a good thing: If you have awesome references, there’s no better way to vault to the top of the candidate list. The key is choosing wisely and then helping your references help you.

Here are a few tips to help you choose and prep your references.

Give Your References a Cheat Sheet

“Make sure each reference always has a copy of your most current resume, knows your key accomplishments and skills, and is aware of the jobs/positions you are seeking. Again, the best references are the ones who know who you are, what you can accomplish, and what you want to do.” —  Read more at QuintCareers.

Tell Them About the Position You’re Seeking

“It’s important to give each of your references descriptions of the jobs you’re applying for, including job specifications, what they are looking for in a job candidate and information about the company. That way, your references can tailor their responses to speak to your strengths that apply to the particular position and company you’re applying for, rather than giving generic responses.” —  Read more at Fastweb.

Make Sure Your Reference is Truly In Your Corner

“According to Carlie Smith, senior talent manager at OpenView Venture Partners, a venture capitalist firm in Boston, conducting a reference call provides an opportunity for recruiters to ask questions about a red flag or concern that has arisen during the hiring process. If your reference gives you a bad recommendation, this could impact your chances, which is why Foss advises you to always touch base with your references before having a potential employer contact them. ‘Candidates should specifically ask their reference, ‘Can I count on you to give me a favorable reference?’ If there’s any hesitation, pick someone else,’ she says.” —  Read more at Fast Company.

Think Beyond Your Boss

“Peers or clients, or one of each. Think back to any project where you did a stellar job, and suggest an interviewer contact the other people involved who can ‘personally attest to your skills and expertise,’ says [Jeff] Shane [head of reference-checking service Allison & Taylor]. These folks have the advantage of knowing some details of your performance that your boss may not even be aware of, which can make their remarks that much more convincing.”

—  Read more at Fortune.

Act Fast To Get a Reference Lined Up

“It’s a good idea to get a reference letter from your manager as soon after leaving a position as possible. Getting a reference letter right away makes it easier for your manager to recall specific contributions you made to the team. Even if you don’t end up needing a reference right away, having the reference letter provides you with something to fall back on in the event you are unable to contact your former manager at a later time. Plus, if you decide to go back to the manager a year or more later to ask them to provide a phone reference, you can remind them about the reference letter they wrote for you.” —  Read more at LiveCareer.

How do you prep your references? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.


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  1. Carolinec says:

    Thanks for this great post! Sharing.

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  4. I always email my references a ‘heads up’ email that lets them know may be getting a call. But I also include a quick line about why I applied to help illustrate why I may be a great candidate. So it may sound like, “I recently applied to be a product owner at a software company. The projects we worked on together in IT really helped me realize I had a passion for translating technical and non-technical information to general audiences…”

    I think its also important to just check in with them occasionally, send them a link to something interesting that made you think of them.

    I send them THANK YOUs when they offer a recommendation for me. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when a previous employee texts to ask for a reference or recommendation letter when I haven’t heard from them in years. I don’t know what they are currently working on and may barely remember them in general. Keep them in the loop if you have them as a reference. And be sure they know you are a reference for them! Don’t let them be surprised, show you are a “clear communicator” and “detail oriented” like your resume says 😉

    Possible Tip: Have a friend with a professional voice/hiring experience call and ask for a reference on you – JUST TO HEAR WHAT THEY SAY … if you are not 100% sure it’s going to be all good things, you shouldn’t be confident in listing them.

  5. Ask for a Reference Letter As Soon As Possible After Leaving Your Job | technologyla says:

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