Whether you’re a freelancer or an employee, solid references are essential if you’re to move up and on to a new job. A polished set of reference building skills should be a part of your job hunting skills. Even if you aren't looking for a job now, it's important to keep the reference-building muscle in shape - and it never hurts to make connections.
Ensuring a good reference
The most desirable single reference is from the most senior person you have worked for in the past. Don't just write a name and hope for the best. If you've enjoyed a good working relationship with your potential reference, casually approach her and ask if you could use her for a reference. If she’s standoffish, if her body language is off-putting, don’t pursue it—give her an out, such as saying, “I know it’s time consuming and you’re quite busy,” or whatever’s relevant to your work environment.
If, however, she’s willing and supportive, you can firm up her reference by enlisting her as a partner in your job search:
- State or provide a list of your major achievements for her use and discuss as needed
- When interviewing for your next position, ask the hiring manager the strengths of the person you’re replacing. Format these into a bulleted list and email it to your reference so that she can build her response appropriately.
Preparing Multiple References
Covering your bases with one reference is often not enough. Hiring managers frequently ask, “Who else works with him?” and will follow up with them. Confirm with your main reference who she may mention if asked. At the very least, give those people notice that they may be contacted and that you’d appreciate a supportive response, reminding them that you’ll do the same for them. If you know what sort of questions they may be asked, share it with them. (These are also the people you should list under “other references” on your application.)
Leaving Bridges Intact
If you feel your been unfairly treated where you work, don’t burn bridges when you leave - it's never worth it. If you exit in a cloud of petulance, that will be the enduring memory your colleagues have of you, not the fine work you did together.
Performing Damage Control
Potential employers are keenly focused on your most recent work experience. Sometimes a bad reference is unavoidable, either directly or through innuendo. (“Very knowledgeable and personable. Of course, I hope you don’t have the same tight deadlines as we do.”) There are ways to deal with this.
One simple, immediate way is to be proactive — ready yourself for it and deal with it coolly and politely, someone who’s learned from his mistakes. Don’t challenge the validity of a bad reference, but rather present yourself as a professional who’s learned from his past mistakes. Doing otherwise, you risk branding yourself as an uncompromising egotist. Everyone has made mistakes, and most people respect those who acknowledge and learn from them.
Minding Your Online Presence
Part of building solid references is the reference you give yourself, online. Two out of five employers review your internet presence as part of their preemployment screening, evaluating your virtual self as well as your working self. You may think of it as snooping; they see it as forming a whole picture of you.
Happily, postings can be deleted. This should happen before a professional disaster occurs, not afterwards. Periodically go through your Twitter timeline, Facebook, Google+ and other social media postings and expunge any ill-considered remarks that would cast you in a bad light. Query your name on Google and see if there’s any derogatory information out there that you could have removed. If you can’t remove unattractive postings, be prepared to speak to them proactively, as you would to any other bad reference.
Armed with the techniques of solid reference building, you’ll be set to showcase your accomplishments and make your next career move.
After you've done your own work building your references, we can help connect you with high-profile companies who value your skills and determination. Contact Artisan today to learn more.