Happy New Year! For everyone resolved to find a new position in 2015, here is the single greatest tip I can give you with regard to references for success in the New Year: Reach out to them BEFORE using their name.
The initial application process for many companies now includes a request for a minimum of three references. While I find this odd, the great news is, you are ahead of the game. You don’t have to be caught off guard by this step because you already know you are looking for a new position and will at some point need to provide references. Do yourself a favor and start building/updating your reference list now. Here are a few proactive steps to take prior to receiving a formal request for references.
1. Make sure they still know who you are and are able to speak to your skills as it relates to your current career path
If you no longer work with or for this person, this is a must. Reach out to them via phone, email, or even social media and let them know that you are in job search and plan to use them as a reference.
Reminding a potential reference who you are means stroking their memory of who you are as a professional. Even if a professional relationship has turned into a friendship (I am currently friends with a number of my past supervisors) and you just hung out with this person for the holidays, take a moment to ensure that they know where you are trying to go in your career.
Help them give you a great professional reference by reminding them of projects that you worked on and skills that you possess that directly relate to your current career path. Sample job descriptions can also help when explaining the types of positions you are interested in.
2. Make sure that you have updated contact information
During your outreach, make sure you have their preferred contact information. What are the best phone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses to reach them? To ease their burden, provide them with the information you currently have and let them update where necessary.
3. Make sure that they actually want to be a reference for you
Give them a chance to opt out. Touch base with your reference before you submit their name to a company. It may not happen very often, but there are cases in which a person will decline a request to be used as a reference.
4. Make sure you actually want to use them as a reference
Knowing or working directly with someone does not automatically make them a great reference. Use the initial contact to gauge their responsiveness (if they never respond to your inquiry, don’t use them) and how articulate they are. Remember, this person is speaking on your behalf.
Someone agreeing to provide a reference for you does not mean you have to use them. You make the final call!
The New Year gives you a perfect reason to reach out to former co-workers, supervisors, and acquaintances and reintroduce yourself in a non-awkward way. Take advantage of this opportunity and avoid the scramble to put together a reference list on the fly.