3 Steps to Getting References that Support your Career Goals

If you’re seeking new career opportunities, at some point you’ll expect requests from potential employers for references. But when you’re in the throes of your job search, references may be the last thing on your mind. Read below to learn more about references and the three steps you can take to avoid common mistakes.

How to request references or recommendations that advance your career goals: tips for career changers

References and Career Change 

A shortage of candidates that meet the job specifications may be good news for career changers. Employers may consider a wider range of applicants. But that doesn’t mean that they are less concerned about the risks of poor hiring decisions. When you’re changing direction in your career, your references may be even more important. 

Let’s consider some of the risks for employers. Employing the “wrong” person includes direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include the time and resources involved in the hiring process itself. There are also the costs of on-boarding, training, and delays in getting the work done. A poor-fit hire may have also have a negative impact on both team members and customers. There may also be the costs of finding a replacement. 

Different employers use different approaches and may request references at different stages in the hiring process. For example, they may ask for references for short-listed candidates. Or they may make an offer subject to satisfactory references. For some positions, additional background checks, such as security clearance, will be needed.  

Hiring mistakes are costly for both candidates and employers. By following the three steps below, you will be better prepared with the references you need to succeed. 

1.  Identify The Right People to Provide your References 

The first step is identify the people that you feel will be suitable. Employers will often specify the number of references and roles they should occupy. Typically this will include your current managers and exclude family members. 

If you’re returning from a career break, changing direction, or have changed jobs frequently it can be a challenge to choose the right references. Begin by writing a list of people that come to mind.

Consider individuals who know you and your work and have observed you in work-type situations. This could include unpaid roles. If you are not currently employed, think of former employers, coworkers, and mentors.  You may need to re-connect with them if you’ve lost touch. 

Perhaps the most important step is to always ask permission first.
While working in universities, I often got requests for references from former students.  Sometimes these requests were from individuals some years after graduating. Unless they got in touch first, the information I could provide was very limited. 

2. Prepare your References by Giving Them the Information They Need to Do A Good Job

Once you obtain permission, preparing your references is easy. You already have people who’ve agreed to support you. This is a great starting point. The question to ask yourself now is “how to help them help you.”

Like you, they probably have busy lives. Provide them with the relevant information in an easy-to-use format. This will vary with the person and the situation. 

Examples might be an up-to-date copy of your resume and role or job descriptions that you are applying for. If you are not sure, make some suggestions and ask what would be useful. 

Employers have different approaches to requesting references. Some may conduct an online survey that includes a wide range of questions to be rated on a scale. Some employers may limit their questions to factual information such as attendance record. Others may schedule a personal conversation via phone.  When possible, let them know what to expect.

3.  Keep Track and Keep in Touch 

If you are applying for different positions at the same time, you may want to request support from different people so as not to overload a single individual. Your choices may be limited by employers’ requirements. But since you will often be asked for three references, you will have some influence over the process. 

Here are some logistical questions to consider:

  • Do you have their current contact information? 
  • Will they be available during the time frame the reference requests will be made? 
  • If your potential employer takes references by telephone, will being in different time zones require some planning?

By considering such details ahead of time, you can reduce delays to selection decisions. Whatever your situation, it’s essential that you keep in touch and have a way of keeping track of your requests. 

3 Steps to Better References: Summary

In most cases, a request for references from a potential employer is a positive step in your search for new career opportunities. Don’t assume that references are a mere formality and therefore unimportant. Include preparing your references as part of your career communication planning.

As a candidate, keep in mind that references are a formal opportunity for others to support your career. Do what you can to help them do a good job. Let the know you appreciate their efforts by updating them. Avoid the mistake of leaving consideration of your references to the last minute, or to chance. 

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