References – Beyond the Basics

Posted by Jadey Ryndak on April 10, 2009

The old adage holds true – finding a job is like having a full-time job.

Many job seekers do very well at the basics: developing resumes, networking, writing wonderful cover letters and sending interview thank you notes. But one area often overlooked – References.

References can be a key factor in the job search process in three ways:

Starting Point: Potential references are an important networking starting point. These are individuals know your work and believe in your ability. They work in your industry. They can often be the very best lead for opportunities and intros. Also getting them involved in the process early makes them feel a part of the effort and vested in the outcome.

Supporting Evidence: References provide hiring managers the information they need to make the decision on your candidacy. A well prepped reference can advocate for you and set you apart from other candidates. This process can also set the stage for how your manager can best to manage you and what types of projects may be ideal for you.

Intelligence: Your references can provide important insights for the final phases of the interview process. Based on the questions asked, you can gain an understanding of any areas of concern or deficits you may need to address. You can also begin to sense the company’s interest level and what items you may wish to highlight. The reference taker may even tip their hand on how many other candidates are under consideration and timelines.

The following article in the Wall street Journal – Bulletproofing your References in the Hunt for a New Job is a valuable read. 


  • Prepare your list with a host of potential references.
  • Contact each and let them know the details of your job search – what you are targeting in terms of position, industry, culture, role, responsibility etc.
  • Confirm that they could provide a positive reference and that you will prep them in advance regarding each role.
  • Inquire about opportunities or suggestions.
  • Continue to network with them and keep the apprised of your job search results so they remain involved in the process.
  • In advance of having a company call them for a reference, prep them:
    • The role
    • The company
    • What elements you are trying to highlight
    • How excited and interested you are in the role and why you think you are a good fit
    • The culture of the organization and communication style of the interviewer
    • Provide a copy of your resume
    • Review any accomplishments that are relevant so the reference has them top of mind
  • Follow up with the reference after the call.
  • Review the questions asked.
  • Look for both positive and negative directions the interviewer took during the call.
  • Ask what the reference stressed and how the interview reacted to the information.
  • Find out any next steps discussed or details of where the company is in the process.
  • Find out if there were any “buy signals”.
  • Did it sound as though the job is yours.
  • Follow up with a thank you (card, email, call, flowers, lunch).
  • Keep your references posted on the outcome of the job even if you do not get the position.
  • If you receive the offer but decline the position – alert the references and explain your reasons.
  • Once you land your new position, communicate the good news to everyone on your reference list and thank them for the role they played.
  • Continue to stay in touch with your references throughout your career.  You may need them again in the future. And they may need your help as well.

Pay it forward as often as you can.

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