9 Tips for Getting the Referrals You Want

Need help getting the right references for your dream job? Try these tips.

At one time or another, we’ve all been asked to provide a list of references when seeking employment. This request is typically accompanied by a few guidelines such as the number requested (three is standard) and who they don’t want you to list (most notably relatives). If you have an active short-list of people who can vouch for your strengths and accreditations, this is an easy task. But what if you don’t have such a list prepared?

The ideal reference list, much like your resume and cover letter, can be tailored to suit your specific career needs. With this in mind, having only three references waiting in the wings isn’t the most sufficient strategy. You should be prepared with a team of referrals for each individual position you may be applying for.

Not sure where to start? Here are nine tips for effectively asking a business associate for a reference.

Plan ahead

Throwing together a list of references last minute is never a good idea. Instead, create a list of people who you feel would be great character references before you begin your job search. These professionals should know you well and be prepared to answer any inquiries about your past experiences and skills related to the position in question. The better they know you, the higher your chance of success. It doesn’t matter if you know the mayor of your city if he or she cannot attest to your solid work history.

Create buckets

Just as a single resume should not be used for applying for every position, the references you provide to a potential employer should be customized for the target position. As you look through your contact list, think about the types of positions in which certain business associates might assert themselves best on your behalf and separate them into buckets. Such buckets may include preferred contact method (some references shine best via the written word, others flourish over the phone), relevant projects you may have done together and/or how well they can vouch for your specific skills or strengths.

Get permission

Personally, I’ve only run into this problem once, but it was awkward and ultimately left a great candidate out of the race for what could have been their perfect career. When I called one of their listed references, the person on the other end of the phone had no idea who the candidate for whom I was calling was until I explained it to them. The referral they gave wasn’t bad, however it left me wondering how well the reference really knew the candidate, or why the candidate would put someone they knew in that position. The moral of the story is simple: don’t leave your references in the dark. Just ask. If you have a positive relationship with the person, I’m sure they’ll be happy to help.

Tell them why

The reason why you may need a certain professional as a reference may seem obvious to you, but this is not the time for assumptions. Let them know why you think you are the perfect fit for the role in question and why they are uniquely qualified to talk you up to an employer. The more transparent you are, the lesser the burden will be on the reference (and it’s imperative to keep them in good graces).

Offer an out

Asking a business associate for a reference can be an unnerving process. Whether you ask in person or via email, try to be tactful. Rather than demanding a reference, phrase your request carefully. Try something along the lines of, “would you have time to provide a reference for me in the next week or two?” This approach grants those being asked the option of bowing out gracefully if they don’t feel up to the task.

Ask if you can help

Being a business reference isn’t something most people take lightly — these individuals are putting their professional reputations on the line for you! After someone has accepted your request to provide you with a reference, ask them if there’s anything you can offer to make giving the referral easier. This may be something as simple as a brief write-up of why you think you’d be great for the job or a copy of the position description. Whatever you think would lessen the trouble of the professional doing you a favor.

Confirm their contact information

While this seems like a no-brainer, once someone has agreed to provide you with a reference, make sure that you have their correct contact information. While you may chat in person on a regular basis, double-check that you have their correct street address, email address and phone number.

Be gracious

While you will certainly say thank you upon acceptance, a heartfelt thank-you note is an appropriate extra step to show your references that you appreciate their help. They’ll remember it, and will most likely be more receptive if you need them again in the future.

Provide updates

Once you’ve established your list of references, remember to keep them informed. It’s always a great idea to provide the professionals on your list with a current copy of your resume and routine updates as to which types of roles you’re pursuing. This will help them feel as confident and prepared as possible when speaking with your potential employer.

Remember, you should only send a list of references to a potential employer when asked. And don’t forget to bring your list of references with you when you attend an interview. If a recruiter does happen to asks for these, you’ll already be one step ahead!