Have you ever noticed tons of resumes state “References available upon request” but many job seekers probably haven’t put thought into what that really means? Did you know there’s a secret to virtually guaranteeing you get an awesome reference from these people who are available upon request?
I know many of you are still in job search mode. The reference can be the deal maker or breaker. I’m going to give you the key to make it the deal maker. And if you’re not job searching but perhaps are serving as a reference for someone who is (and someone you obviously care about otherwise you wouldn’t be their reference) I’m going to help you be the best reference you possibly can.
Side note/PRO TIP: DON’T write “References available” on your resume – it’s stupid and a big “duh.” You had better have references available on request so stating it on your resume earns it the award of OBVIOUS FAIL. If you’re putting that in there, you might as well also include “I’m not a murderer nor am I a mutant” because that too is obvious – unless you’re actually a murdering mutant. Putting that references statement in there is also a huge waste of valuable space on your resume. Now back to our post…
If you want a great reference from a previous boss, customer, business partner, or team member, the best way to get it is to write it yourself.
No, I’m not advocating forgery. I’m simply hitting on the same points I made about writing your own progress review. People are busy. They have terrible memories. Sure, YOU remember how awesome you did on that project three years ago. THEY barely remember you were ON that project, let alone all the work you did on it.
Given that scenario, there are three things you need to do to get that person to be a fabulous reference. They are explain the role, make the case, and follow up:
Explain the Role
If your reference knows what role you’re seeking and the critical skills it requires, they’re better able to relate your experiences to that role. They can help explain how your work on the new ERP system implementation is a perfect fit for the target company’s role you’re seeking.
If you’re the reference and the person asking you for your support doesn’t tell you what the role is about, your job is to ask them. Ask what the critical skills and objectives are. Ask them to articulate how their experience relates to the position.
Make the Case
Once your referrer understands the role, you need to present them with the ammunition for their conversation with the prospective employer. Send them a bulleted list of stories and examples about your past performance that they should be familiar with. Provide them actual metrics and results they can spout off to the interviewer. Again, only provide facts but do so in a manner that’s accessible for the person you’re asking for the referral from.
If you’re the referrer, be sure to have the candidate tell you what stories and examples they want you to share. Ask them for precise numbers. Act as if you’re the one conducting the interview. Making your stories detailed and consistent with the candidate’s stories will make the interviewer remember the examples and help the candidate stand out more.
This is going to sound stupid but we all know this doesn’t happen and that’s the REALLY stupid part. Regardless of whether or not you get the job, follow up with the person who gave you the reference. Let them know how the interviews went. Let them know if their feedback and time were helpful.
They’ve done you a favor by taking time out of their busy calendar to vouch for you. The least they deserve is a thank you note (which I’ve written about previously in this post). Remember – you might go back to them with a similar request in the future. They’re much more likely to accommodate that request if they know you appreciate it.
If you follow up with folks, they’ll understand you’re more interested in building a relationship versus just using them to get you what you want (sort of like when people couldn’t care to stay in touch with you when they’re employed but all of a sudden they are out of work and they’re seeking LinkedIn connections, recommendations, and time on your calendar. It’s annoying. And transparent). If you follow up and build a relationship, it will be much better received than a thinly veiled and disingenuous “reach out” that’s only looking for a recommendation or access to their network.
And if you’re the referrer, reach out to the candidate if you haven’t heard from them. Find out how their interviews went. Ask if your recommendation was helpful. If it wasn’t, ask what you can do differently next time. It’s clear you care enough to serve as a reference – you might as well learn how to be an even better one going forward.
Do these three things and your experiences with requesting, receiving, and giving references should be exponentially better than they are today.