Strong references can propel your job application to the next level and increase your leverage in hiring negotiations. Essentially, they serve as affirmative proof of two very important things: 1) you can put in the effort and do your job and 2) you’re able to build and maintain professional relationships. It’s unlikely you’ll find an organization which doesn’t prioritize finding candidates who can check these two boxes, and references provide an extra step of assurance above and beyond your resume and conduct during an interview.
Reach out in advance to:
Confirm their contact information
You never know who else may have been job-searching recently (or has simply changed his or her primary email address or phone number), so it’s important that you make sure you have your references’ up-to-date contact information. The best reason to confirm in advance is that it eliminates the stress you would otherwise experience in trying to confirm references after they’ve already been requested by the organization(s) with which you’re interviewing.
Update them on where you’re working now
Reaching out in advance also serves as a great opportunity to update your references on the latest in your professional life. This should make them feel more comfortable with being a reference, and it’s also likely to help them to perform more effectively as references.
Inform them you’re looking for a new job
Finally, make it clear that you’re actively looking for a new job and that you would like to include them as a reference. It can come across as unprofessional if you decide to surprise your references with a short-notice request, which is expressly what you want to avoid if you want your references to speak to your professionalism. As a bonus, they may offer you some leads upon hearing that you’ve begun job searching.
Provide each reference with a written job summary and timeline
When you follow back up to formally request a reference for a specific opportunity, you should include a copy of your resume. Think about how difficult it can be sometimes to speak about even your own experience in a concise manner…now imagine trying to do the same thing about the experience of a colleague (whom you may not have spoken to recently). Much better to provide a ‘cheat sheet’ in the form of your resume to make it simpler for them to write a reference.
Coach your references about the information they should provide
Finally, in addition to providing your resume, make mention of a few of the things you’re most proud of or that you think most define your value as a candidate. Your references are likely to take notice and home in on these specific factors while they’re writing. As such, the quality of these referrals should increase, and they should line up with your resume points, thereby lending you credibility.