May I call your references?

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Good Monday morning,

“May I call your references?”, the recruiter asks as she hands you the offer letter for your new role.  What a thrill! What an opportunity!

Sharing your references with future employers is a terrific way of displaying who you’ve worked with and who believes in you.  Not only in your job search, but in your career generally, references are your secret weapon.  Collected over time, hopefully well before you need them, and used wisely, the entire process of how you approach references can make your job search stronger.

When it comes to networking, it  may seem obvious to you to ask everyone you know if they’ve heard of any jobs open, or if they know of anyone hiring.  Your contacts are busy professionals in their own right, and it is highly unlikely they are reviewing the hiring needs of their peers or competitors.  So asking them about job opportunities they’ve seen is a wasted opportunity, and it’s counter-productive.

The best advice in networking is to ask for a reference, not a job.

Whether you’re doing catch-up drinks or grabbing lunch to reconnect, your primary need is to get an ally, not a tally of job listings. Recruiting a helping hand to your search is your goal. 

So don’t ask your college friend if she knows of any jobs for people like you. How would she? 

And don’t ask your boss from two jobs ago if she has the names of any people who are currently looking to hire somebody like you. It puts her on the spot. Uncomfortably.

No, instead, ask for a reference. Mention that you’re going to be moving on, or you’re already looking, or that you’re actively out on the street. Let them know the type of positions you are and are not suited for, and what you’re hoping to achieve in your next opportunity. 

And then ask them if — when it gets to that happy place in your search — if it would be OK to use them as a reference

By not putting them on the spot about specific job openings, you reduce the awkwardness inherent in the networking conversation. 

And by letting them know that you hold them in high enough esteem to potentially use them as a reference, you’re actually paying them a compliment. 

You’re also making it easier for them to say “yes”, and to feel good about themselves for being a good friend and helping you out with a little favor. 

All of which means that you have a new buddy in your search — one who’s going to be thinking about keeping an eye out for new opportunities and an ear open for fresh possibilities for their reference-able friend: you. 

By making your networking about compliments, you’ll find it pays dividends. 

With Ladders References, we’ve made the value of each reference more powerful by limiting it to just three references (more if you’re a Premium member).  Instead of asking employers to go through your hundreds or thousands of contacts and wondering which ones you really know, Ladders References has you do the work of picking the handful of people in your professional life who you know can best vouch for your work and your abilities.

You should offer the most reliable, trustworthy, positive sources you can, by the way.  Your chatty friend who loves you but tends to run at the mouth is not as safe a bet as your close-lipped quiet buddy.  This is all about playing defense – you want to be safe, not aggressive, in your approach.

Likewise, you’re not looking for nuance here.  You’d like to have as references those people who can provide the most unvarnishedly positive viewpoint on your work, not the ones who can raise questions about your past.  Co-workers or bosses with whom you had a contentious relationship before it all turned out great, or people who can speak to your “growth as a person”, as wonderful as those stories are, the references process is probably not the place for them.

When you’re networking, ask for a reference, not a job.  And put those references to good use both in your search and in your career.

I’m rooting for you!