It is said that 75% of employers check references, yet many people never speak to their professional references at all, or do so only at the end of a job search, when a job offer is imminent. This can be a costly mistake.
When you intend to use certain references because you believe that they will speak well of you, why not confirm it and leverage that good will throughout your job search? References can represent superb networking resources, after all, who better to ask for a lead or a referral than someone who knows and thinks well of you? Contacting potential references can even lead directly to jobs with their employers. The worst that can happen is that you identify and have time to replace a weak reference with a strong one.
Your references and job search strategy
Identify as many potential references as possible, the more you have, the better your references will ultimately be because of your increased options. While identifying and confirming who are your best references is valuable in itself, you can also learn to use all of them as a valuable part of your networking strategy.
Talk to your potential references
Make a list of all the people who could possibly act as references, the more the merrier, and then verify what kind of reference each is likely to offer. You’ll find that old colleagues, managers, and even their managers, will invariably be happy to talk. Calling early in the day, at lunchtime or at the end of the day maximizes your chances of a relaxed conversation. Start with a clear introduction, “John, this is ____, we worked together at Citibank between 2002 and 2006. How have you been?” Then after the response, “John, as I am making a transition, I called to see if I can use you as a reference when the time comes?” The response will invariably be positive, so you can move on, “Thanks, John, I hoped you would say that. Let me update you about what I have been doing recently and tell you about the type of job I’m after.”
Give a capsule description of what you’ve done since you worked together, talk about what you can do with the skills and experience you have today, not the job you dream of doing. Our dream jobs tend to be aspirational, but in today’s employment market professionals get hired based on their credentials, not their potential. When you talk about that dream job, the specifics only reduce your chances of receiving leads and your lack of credentials reduce the chances of generating offers.
Give references your resume
Ask each reference if s/he would take a look at your resume. This gets your resume into hands likely to pass it on to others, and it gives you a reason to follow up with that reference in two or three weeks.
With this approach, you have detailed the kind of work you can do and the reference will be receiving your resume, so there is no need be pushy about asking for a job in this first conversation, when you can nurture a productive relationship.
The more potential references you contact, results in more people who know your capabilities intimately becoming available as networking resources throughout your job search.
Nurture your reference relationships
Follow up your call with a thank you e-mail, then you can network with each of these potential references every month or two, either for input on who to speak to about a job with a particular company for other intelligence relevant to your search.
Your relationship shouldn’t be a one-way street of requests for assistance; you can bring value to the relationship as well. In your job search, Murphy’s Law dictates that you will constantly come across jobs that aren’t quite right for you. However, such jobs could be perfect for one of your references, and even if it isn’t the right opportunity, your goodwill is always appreciated and will be returned.
Using your best references
When a job offer is on the table, the majority of employers will want to check your references. With a selection of references to choose from you can call each one to explain the job’s responsibilities and deliverables, and then ask what they would feel comfortable in saying about your suitability for the job as a reference.
With this approach, your references provide assistance and support throughout your job search and you get choose the best references to use at offer time.