5 Tips for Securing Strong References

February 27th, 2012 | References | 2 Comments »


Strong references complement an excellent résumé. A well-written letter of reference can shed an effective light on key skills that set you apart from other candidates. In a job market as tight as this one, it is imperative that you spend some time getting your strategy for utilizing references into tip-top shape before you send out your next batch of résumés. Here are five tips for getting the most out of your references:

1. Communicate Clearly about What You Need

You want the person providing your reference to be able to clearly articulate details that will illuminate the attributes you can bring to the job. Even if you have a conversation about the reference letter, make sure to follow up in a letter or email note. Always give the referring individual all the pertinent information s/he needs to complete the letter, including the deadline. Think about having different references for different jobs based on which skills you are trying to highlight. Be sure the person providing the reference has the time and explicitly agrees before adding him or her to your list.

2. Provide an Outline and Talking Points for Verbal Referrals

If you want to be sure your supervisor mentions your top marks on your last employee review, include it in the talking points. If you want a particular reference to highlight your soft skills, make a note of it on your outline. Remember you are trying to match your skills with concrete examples of actions that will demonstrate to a prospective employer that you meet their needs better than anyone else will. It is okay and even expected that different references will highlight different aspects of your professional attributes. Providing an outline will ascertain that the people providing the references know what role they are playing in your overall strategy.

3. Keep Your References Updated

Not only should you be sure that your contact information on your reference list is up to date, but you should also be in regular contact with the professionals who are providing your references. Sending a note once or twice a year keeps the contact fresh and helps to maintain the connection needed for the reference letter to read with the details and authenticity that will help you land the job. If you want someone to take time to help you, it is only polite that you take the time to stay in touch.

4. Keep a Portfolio of Reference Letters and Other Relative Information

Keeping copies of your stellar employee reviews, awards, citations and reference letters all in one place makes it easy to get a batch of supporting documents together in a hurry if the right job just happens to appear. Before you change jobs, be sure to get a letter of recommendation to add to your files. If you sense an older supervisor is about to change positions or retire, go ahead and ask for a letter of reference. You can pick and choose which letters to send to which employers, so try to obtain a good selection of effective letters that cover your hard and soft skills.

5. Remember Your Etiquette

Thank you notes are a must after someone writes you a reference. Sending a brief note to let your letter writer know that you appreciate his or her time and attention is good business etiquette to practice over the course of your career. If you know the person has fielded several calls on your behalf or has written several letters at once, it is nice to show some small token of thanks, such as a coffeehouse gift card or a movie pass once your job search is complete. Practicing professional etiquette will help you build a strong reputation.

Secure Strong Reference Letters to Compliment your Résumé

Securing strong references is essential for landing a great job, but professionals often underestimate the need to orchestrate a letter of recommendation strategy. Being sure your referrals match the entire range of your professional attributes can help show a prospective employer that you are the best person for the position. Giving your references the necessary details to craft the perfect letter of recommendation can help make your overall application more attractive to a hiring executive. Taking the time to plan a strategy is worth the effort, especially when competition for top jobs in this rocky economy remains competitive.

This guest post was provided by Erin Palmer from Bisk Education. Erin works with Villanova University’s online human resources masters degree and PHR Certification programs.

Image courtesy of fortysouth.com

2 Responses to “5 Tips for Securing Strong References”

  1. Michael Gokey says:

    I have taken each of my strong references out to lunch in the past. But this article reminds me I need to step up my proper etiquette. I like the Starbucks card idea a lot, and need to
    provide an Outline and Talking Points for Verbal Referrals as well as update my buddies.

    I feel I need to work on each of these steps. I have done them in the past, but it is time to put more work into building up these relationships. Thank you for sharing this us.

    May I add that I have also vetted each of my references. I had a employment service buddy call each and inquire as normal, to check to see what each reference says, and out of 10 on my list found I needed to get rid of one, and who my strongest 4 were, and who my “so-so” 4 were.

  2. Erin Palmer says:

    I love your point about vetting your references, Michael! That is very smart. My brother lost out on a job opportunity and later found out that one of his references wasn’t as stellar as he expected. It’s important to make sure that you are putting your strongest connections forward.