5 actions to treat your references like royalty

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Feb 21

Quality job references are gold. So why do we treat our job references so poorly?

I've given a lot of job references in my career -- and no one has a process down outside of, "Can I use you as a reference?".

Since companies now rarely give references (outside of dates of employment and job titles), the references from your coworkers and former managers are that much more important to solicit and maintain. While the (incredibly) intrusive background checks get you to even in getting the job, the job references can kill your opportunity before the background check is even done.

Let's build a process for treating your references like royalty -- you will be so outside the norm of how it is done, you'll produce a standard for everyone else who asks for a job reference from yours.

You have two objectives in treating your reference like royalty: Prepare them for the possible reference call, and, keep them informed about the position so they get closure to what they did.

1. Ask if they would be a reference for you for a new position

You DO ask people to be a reference, don't you? Most people do. But then I had a person meekly ask me again after submitting me as a job reference...three years after asking.

At least I didn't get a call out of the blue...

2. Provide your resume to your reference so they have it

I might know what you did when you worked for me...but be clueless as to what experience came before -- or after.

But the rest of your resume is important for your reference to know because it gives that person context...how you progress in your career so you can show that to the person calling. It also gives them time to look at your reference and then ask you any questions about what is on it so, if asked, you can explain it to the caller.

3. Provide the job description so your reference has it

Why people don't provide this is beyond me. The job description is the key document that will help your reference relate your skills, results, and experience to meeting what the company wants to see in a person.

When all you do is say the position you are applying for to your reference, it provides zero information about what the job is about, what the company does, and how you think you fit into it.

But a resume -- and a job description -- allows your reference to understand how your resume compares to the job description and helps that person better relate their answers to what is being asked about by the caller.

4. Describe what was talked about in your interviews

So this requires -- wait for it -- a conversation with your references. I know, I know, we don't have conversations anymore, but this is a good one to have.

You see, every position and candidate has strengths and weaknesses going into a new job. The job interviews usually bring those out. And if you do good job interviews and ask good questions, you will have a good idea of the big need that needs filling in the new position.

That kind of information is vital to your reference. It allows that person to focus on how you best fit the position from the reference's viewpoint and allows that person to demonstrate your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.

But without the interview information, your reference won't understand the context of the questions being asked and could very well give the wrong kind of answer to the question because he or she didn't understand what went on in the interviews.

You've gotten this far along the job search path...and then don't tell the person advocating for you for the position what went on during the interview? It's almost a crime.

5. Finally, provide an update on what happened

I'm trying hard to remember, but I believe not one person has ever followed up with me to let me know whether or not they got the job.

Now, I've let the candidate know whether or not the company called me for a reference. If they did, I give the candidate the low down on questions asked and what I said -- hey, communications is a two-way street.

But I don't think any candidate ever let me know the outcome of getting the job or not.

You know the other reason providing follow-up is important? Here is a person in your business network who went out on a limb with their time and reputation to help you out. With no followthrough, did your reference's level of commitment to your career and your well being go up? Or go down?

Ummm...down. I helped you and you did...nothing. Not even a thanks.


Cubicle Warriors do the hard work of maintaining and supporting their business networks. A great way to do that is make your reference's job easy to do to help advocate for you. And then follow-up so they know that what you did was important for you.

It makes all the difference.

Have you ever been a job reference? What was the experience like?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.