Don’t Leave Your Professional References to Chance

Five tips from a “career-building company” on the importance of references — plus a bonus suggestion based on personal experience.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Reference checks

Professional reference-checking firm Allison & Taylor suggests workers stay in touch with former bosses and others who could be, or are, professional references.

My daughter is currently in the checking references part of the job process, so this tip sheet email from career company and professional reference-checking firm Allison & Taylor struck me as right on target. “While the importance of one’s job references is as critical as ever,” the enewsletter said, “too many job seekers lose sight of the importance of cultivating, and retaining, positive references.

It makes good business sense — and is simply respectful professional etiquette — to stay in touch with your former bosses, as your efforts to stay connected with past employers will pay dividends many times over when they provide you with favorable professional references.”

Here are the guidelines (verbatim) Allison & Taylor suggests you follow to ensure that your references will remain strong advocates on your behalf:

  1. Text or email your former bosses and ask if they are willing to provide favorable job references on your behalf. As an additional courtesy, offer them an update on your career.
  2. Let your references know every time you give out their contact information and thank them for their efforts.
  3. Note that spending time communicating with your references takes valuable time from their workdays. If you plan to use them over the years, you need to give something back. For instance, each time your reference supports you with a new prospective employer, send them a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) an email. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card for Starbucks, or offer to take your former boss to lunch/dinner.
  4. Keep your positive references informed of your career and educational progress. They will be more inclined to see you in a stronger light as you progress.
  5. If you win the new position, text, call or email your former boss and thank them again for their support. Also, let them know your new contact information.

And I will add one more, based on my daughter’s experience, when her potential employer asked to speak with colleagues in addition to former supervisors. Before you leave a position, gather contact information for colleagues you would like to include on your list of references. It’s sometimes difficult to find their email address or phone numbers after you’ve left and reaching out to them to request they provide a positive review via a LinkedIn or Facebook message can be a crapshoot.

Allison & Taylor recommends that you never leave your professional references to chance. “If you are uncertain whether your professional references and past employers will relay positive comments about you to prospective employers, consider having them checked out.”

In other words, reference check your references.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.