Want people to say wonderful things about you long after you’ve left a job? Even if you’re happily employed at the moment, it’s never too early to start thinking about collecting references. Here are a few tips on how to get the best job reference, and make your resume sing:
If You Have a Job:
Take it seriously. You don’t want to be remembered as the office gossip, or the one who got wasted at every office party–so work hard, and be friendly at the job you’ve got. Earn people’s respect, and they’ll likely have positive things to say about you down the road.
When you leave, think ahead. Tell potential references that you’d like to stay in touch. Save their phone number and email address (a personal email address is ideal, as it’s likely to be kept if they change jobs). After all, a potential reference is no use to you if you can’t track down their current contact information.
If You’re Looking For a Job:
Make a list. The list should consist of people you’ve interacted with on a professional level (including volunteer work). Think: who knows you best, and will say complimentary things about you? Your close friends and relatives may love you, but they won’t be taken seriously as a job reference, so cross them off the list. A senior vice president’s name might look good as a reference, but if she doesn’t know you well, she’s not the best option. Instead, when seeking a job reference approach people who have worked closely with you.
Add detail. It’s quick and easy to send a list of names, emails, and phone numbers, when someone asks for your references. But it’s worth taking the time to add more context about who this reference is and why they’re included on the list. Beneath each reference, list a few bullet points that explain your relationship with this person and outline how you worked together.
Ask for permission. Before you send your list of references to a potential employer, let the people you’ve listed know that you’d like to use them as a reference. That way, if they feel uncomfortable with referring you for any reason, they can give you a heads up. (It’s better to find out now than to have the hiring manager’s call go unanswered.) Even if you’re sure someone won’t mind, it’s still worth checking in, so they know to expect a phone call or email about you in the near future. You want your face–and your hard work–to be fresh in their mind.
Offer a few talking points. If your reference is someone you haven’t talked to in a while, remind them of your history together, such as: “I worked in the marketing department from 2010-2012, and helped set up the X campaign.” Listing specific projects you worked on and outlining your involvement in each in order to make it easier for your reference to reflect on your contributions.
If you feel comfortable, you can even suggest exactly what you’d like the reference to say, such as: “It’d be helpful if you mentioned how I managed the summer intern program for two years.”
If You’re Hired:
Take time to say thanks. Even if you don’t get the job let your references know how much you appreciate their help, and they’ll likely to be there for you again in the future.
Pave the way for the future. If you got the job, look around at your new officemates–who do you want as a reference in the future? Work your butt off, and make a good impression.
Finally, be sure to keep the cycle of good vibes going by making time to serve as a reference to other people when asked.