Landing the Job: The Importance of Prepping Your References

April 2015

A strong testimony from a good reference can be one of the determining factors in successfully obtaining the position you desire. Why then do jobseekers seem to overlook the importance of this step? Some candidates assume that submitting references is a formality and they won’t be contacted, whereas others think that their references will have positive things to report regardless of whether they communicate with them prior to the reference check. Both of these assumptions can be detrimental to the job search.

Thinking carefully about the references you select and having productive conversations with them prior to their contact with your potential employer can be the difference in whether or not you get the job. So what kind of information should you include and how should these conversations take place? Check out these helpful tips from Addison Group’s Kansas City IT branch manager Jeff Remis:

Have a Verbal Conversation

You don’t necessarily need to meet for coffee with your reference, but it is best to avoid non-verbal communication. You will want to give them a chance to remember you again—and you can only express so much of your genuine personality in an email or text. Calling your reference on the phone will help you personalize the conversation and make you "real" again. 

Nail Down Specifics

While your reference will likely be instantly reminded of your relationship when you reach out, they may not be so clear on the specifics of the work you performed. Do your best to mention particular projects you worked on that will be easy for them to repeat to the hiring manager or recruiter who inquires about you.

Catch Them Up

It is often the case that the reference you’re using is from a past job as opposed someone you work with at your current company. In addition to bringing key milestones from when you worked together to their attention, highlight your career development since then. They will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about where you’ve been since working together and have a better framework for how to market you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dive Right in and Ask

It’s great to take the time to have a friendly, social conversation with your reference, but it is equally important to make it clear that you are seeking a new position and would like to use this individual as a reference. If you never directly ask their permission, they might feel slighted when they do hear from the hiring manger or recruiter.

Similar to the letters of recommendation that college seniors request from teachers and coaches, a professional reference should be someone you not only admire and respect, but also a person with whom you have established a strong rapport. Regardless of whether it’s been a week or a year since you’ve last spoken with your reference, genuine expression of the importance of their recommendation in propelling you forward in your career will likely result in positive feedback.