When was the last time you updated your reference list?
Believe it or not, career references are oftentimes the most overlooked tool in the arsenal of job seekers.
It could be that you haven’t updated the list in a while. Or maybe you haven’t even talked to the people you have listed.
Probably closer to the truth: These people likely have no idea where you are in your career.
And therein is the problem: If you aren’t building an active cheerleading squad that is engaged in your career success, then the people you have listed on your reference list have no business being on there.
Like seasons, friends and, yes, career references, come and go. That’s why you need to be zeroed in at all times on who it is you have listed on your references…and more importantly, what each individual can speak to when discussing the common thread holding this document together (that’s you, by the way).
Smart career managers understand that the career reference list needs to be just as vibrant and value-driven as their résumé. They strategize about each person that they list, giving careful consideration as to what each person can discuss if called upon.
One person might speak about your knowledge. Another may address your team spirit. Yet another might talk about your abilities and accomplishments. Or someone might be able to provide insights into initiative or character.
The point here is that you should mindfully list people that provide a full-spectrum, in-depth assessment in broad brush strokes of who you are, how you operate, what you do and how you do it.
In effect, you want the career reference list to act as a mirror and accurately reflect (and verify) what you have told prospective employers in your résumé and cover letter.
But you need to take this one step further: Don’t let this list become stale. Keep in touch with your references by getting together occasionally, emailing them or talking on the phone.
And even more critically: Let them know 1) you are looking for new work, 2) you’d like to list them as a reference (permission-based request) and 3) what you think they could address the best about you.
The very worst thing you can do is list someone as a career reference…who doesn’t know that you have done so.
Case in point: There was one person who did that to me, and to be honest, I didn’t know him very well. Nor was I familiar with his work. Lo and behold, he was in the final stages of the interview process and I got a call from his prospective employer, wanting to confirm what I knew about this person.
I was taken aback; I had not given him permission to use me as a reference, which rankled me as it was clear he was trying to ride my professional coat tails. And honestly, I couldn’t say anything at all because I had nothing to draw from…which proved to be his own undoing. He didn’t get the job.
So always keep a fresh, updated and motivated career reference list. After all, you never know when you might need it!
For additional reading on this topic, check out “4 People You Should Never Use as Job References.”