Close the Career Opportunity by Preparing Your References

September 5, 2014 Diane Cobbold

You’ve been made a formal offer of employment. Congratulations! All of your hard work preparing for numerous interviews has paid off. You had stiff competition for the position, but you’re the final candidate. You’re now finalizing the paperwork and will start in 2 weeks, pending the minor issue of a reference check.

The final test is here. How well have you prepared your references? 

Some companies will perform a number of different types of reference checks including:

  1. an academic reference check to ensure all your formal education credits are accurate,
  2. a company reference check to ensure your employment history is accurate, and 
  3. verbal reference checks with previous managers, former colleagues, vendors, or suppliers that you have dealt with regularly.

Assuming the academic and company references uncover no surprises, it is important to understand the influence your business references will have on the offer your future employee makes you. Their feedback can seal the deal or determine if things change course and come to a crashing stop.

Seek numerous references

At the outset of your job search you will likely be interviewing for a number of different types of positions. Some may be identical to the position you are leaving or left, while others may be something very different. It’s recommended to recruit a number of different references, and then choose the appropriate combination depending on each opportunity.

Remember, your references need to be able to speak in detail about your professional working relationship. Create a list of potential references which may include former colleagues, managers, cross-functional supervisors and depending on your role it may be appropriate to include vendors, customers, suppliers or distributors. 

Ask don’t assume

Always ask your references if they are both comfortable and willing to be your reference. Don’t assume that a former colleague or manager will automatically be a reference. This is a choice. Someone may decline because they personally may feel they did not work with you long enough to give a strong enough reference, or they may have already been asked by a number of others and feel their time is limited.

Prepare your references

Wherever possible take the time to have a quick coffee or call with each of your references. The best way for them to help you and act as a good reference is when they completely understand what you’re looking for. Tips to remember:

  1. Thank them for being your reference.
  2. Refresh their memory on your professional background and your key achievements.
  3. Give them a copy of your resume so they understand your complete career history.
  4. Tell them about your current job target and preferences. It may be the same as your last position, or may be completely different. It’s important they know how you’re trying to position and sell yourself.
  5. Ask them for some honest feedback. From your previous working relationship, what do you they see as your key skills and strengths? What do they think you should improve upon, or recommendations to develop new knowledge or skills?
  6. Ask them if there any questions they would feel uncomfortable answering, then help them develop an answer they could use.
  7. Review the common question asked by potential employers: “Why did you leave your last position?” Tell your reference how you’re answering the question, and ask them how they would answer the same question. You don't want any surprises!
  8. Seek their insight and advice. What types of positions could they see you in? Are there positions you haven't considered?
  9. Create a system for when they can expect a reference call from an employer.

Stay in contact with your references

As some job searches can take longer than anticipated, it’s important to keep in contact with your references. Don’t assume they’ll just be there 3-4 months later if you have not kept them updated on your job search. If too much time passes they might just assume you have already secured a new position and didn’t need them as a reference.

Decide if email or voicemail is the easiest way to reach each of your references. Create reminders in your calendar to contact your references every 3-4 weeks. You may not need anything from them, but it’s important to keep them informed on both your successes and challenges. Don’t neglect them, as they are critical to the final processes.

Pre-alerting your references to incoming reference calls

When you have handed a potential employer the contact information for your references, alert them of an incoming call.

  1. Contact each reference that you used for this position.
  2. Let them know specifically who will be calling and from what company.
  3. Give them insight into the company and the position you’re interviewing for.
  4. Let them know about any reservations they may have previously had about you.
  5. Inform them of any doubts you may still have about the position, company, or manager, and ask them to give you feedback later.
  6. After your reference has been called, ask them to contact you so you know the process is moving along.
  7. During your follow-up call, ask your reference for their thoughts and opinions - were there any surprises?

Thanking your references

Once you’re in the new position, remember to thank everyone that’s assisted you during this process.  Send messages to all of your references and let them know about your new position, and new contact information

Also inform anyone else that has been helping you during your job search. You never know when you may need them again so handle your relationship with them as professionally and courteously as possible.





About the Author

Diane Cobbold

Diane Cobbold is VP of Business Development in Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge’s Career Solutions Practice. Diane has over 20 years of experience working with HR teams to develop career solutions that support departing and retained employees to realize their career goals through traditional programs and virtual resources.

Follow on Twitter More Content by Diane Cobbold
Previous Article
Is Stupid Loyalty Getting In The Way Of Your Career Success?
Is Stupid Loyalty Getting In The Way Of Your Career Success?

I was recently having dinner with a group of friends when one asked another...

Next Article
5 Ways to Bring Your Personal Brand to Life Using LinkedIn
5 Ways to Bring Your Personal Brand to Life Using LinkedIn

With 300 million members, LinkedIn is easily the largest professional social...

Interested in receiving new articles, interviews, blogs, and research reports? Subscribe to our onPeople Newsletter today!