6 Ways to Proactively Manage Your References

6 Ways to Proactively Manage Your ReferencesOnce you have your employment reference list ready to go, it’s important to manage your references proactively. When you’re in a job search, it isn’t enough to simply create a list of referees — you also have to prepare your referees to defend you AND you have to close the loop of your references. More on that below.

First, let’s start with the basics. How do you prepare your references to answer questions about you when employers call?

(1) Send a packet of information to each person on your reference list prior to beginning your career search:

    • A copy of your reference list.
    • A copy of each resume version you will be using in your job search.
    • A note with the following request: If any employer contacts you and requests your referral to someone else who knows me and can give a reference, please only refer them to someone else on my reference list.

Note the third bullet above: Sometimes references are asked to suggest other professionals the employer can talk to about you. You don’t want your references to supply names of people that you haven’t approved or prepared, so it’s vital that you “close the loop” of your references. You do this by (a) making sure each of your references has your master reference list and (b) including the request noted in the third bullet above.

(2) Optionally, you may also want to include:

    • A list of personality descriptors which showcase your work-related characteristics. This is a great way to underscore your brand and help your references to include qualities you want them to echo.
    • A list of the strongest skills you possess which qualify you for work in your chosen field. Here again, align this list with your career brand and the skills showcased on your LinkedIn profile for maximum impact.
    • One or more success stories the reference may or may not be aware of which s/he could use to describe your accomplishments in detail. A mini case study about one of your CAR (challenge | actions | results) stories will impress your references AND help them to impress employers on your behalf.

(3) Call or email your references within a week after sending them a packet to see if (a) they received everything you sent; and (b) they have any questions or feedback for you.

(4) Check in with your references periodically throughout your search — about once monthly should do the trick. Keep them posted on how things are going and repeat your thanks for their service on your behalf.

(5) When you anticipate that an offer may be on the way, be sure to alert your references that an exciting opportunity is on the horizon, so they can be prepared for a reference call. Staying in touch with your references at this stage will also keep you informed as to when your references are being checked.

(6) When your job search is over and you have accepted a new position, let your references know you have done so and that their “services” are no longer required. Send them a thank you note, and, if your budget allows, perhaps a gift certificate or small token of your appreciation. And, of course, offer to do the same for them whenever the need arises.

Keep in mind that your references are different than any recommendations you have collected to date. Your references are people who know your work or may have worked directly with or for you and are able to speak about your personality and successes from a first-hand perspective. They are willing to take phone calls or emails with questions about their relationship to you.

Your recommenders, on the other hand, are people who have or are willing to write a statement about their association with you, either in a letter/email or via the recommendations feature on LinkedIn.

In other words, references are on standby throughout your job search, waiting to be contacted by a prospective employer who is vetting you in anticipation of tendering you an offer of employment. Recommenders proactively write their descriptions of you and generally play no further role in your career search (unless you also request them to serve as one of your references). Make sure you understand the differences between these two roles so you can strategically select the right folks to serve you in either capacity.

NB: This blog post was originally published here in 2007. It has been updated in alignment with current employment reference practices and LinkedIn recommendation features.