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How To Choose And Stay In Contact With Your References

 social information processing, online social networking, world wide web, community websites, social media, web 2.0, hung lee, personal references, job search, reference checks, interview tips, spreadsheet, twitter, recruiter, chosen, linkedin, jobs, references, search, stay, contact, choose, stays, job In case you missed it yesterday, the topic was: asking for recommendations on LinkedIn.  There were some great comments on this post including one from Hung Lee (@Wise_Man_Say) who pushed back on two of my recommendations.  As you may have read earlier, I generally like people who are disagreeable.  I recommend you check out Hung’s blog appropriately titled Wise Man Say.

And if you did miss yesterday’s post, consider signing up for this blog via e-mail.  You get new posts.  Nothing else.

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I also liked the comments from Jim Todd who separated general (or generic) “recommendations” from more targeted (or specific) “references”.  His point was that a LinkedIn recommendation is great to reach a lot of people.  It is highly public whereas a reference is usually something that is shared with individuals.  More personal.  Often hand delivered as a letter of recommendation or, even more specific, as a phone call.  A specific conversation about you.

So today and tomorrow I will focus on the specific.  The targeted side of this subject.

The Personal Reference

So here’s what I’ll cover:

Part 1: How To Choose And Stay In Contact With Your References

Part 2:  How To Prep And Avoid Over-Use Of Your References

So I think we all know that having good references is awfully important. It gives you a sense of confidence.  That when you get to the end of the job search process with a company.  Someone you’ve worked with in the past will confirm everything you’ve said during your interviews.

Because although reference checks are often a rubber stamp.  Or a search for red flags (any bit of information that might derail your getting an offer).  It is a part of the process that you want to pass with flying colors.

How To Choose And Stay In Contact With Your References


Similar to your LinkedIn recommendations, I suggest you have a final list of 10: 3 supervisors, 3 peers (people working at your same level), 3 direct reports, 1 superior that worked in another department.  If you’ve never been a boss, replace “3 direct reports” with people that took direction from you or worked on a cross-functional team with you.

It’s also nice to have a variety of references because you never know what the hiring company will want.  They may ask for one of each of the above or they may ask for 4 former bosses.  Being as ready as you can before the call comes is key.

In my humble opinion, there are three characteristics you are looking for in references:

  1. Willing: This includes a number of factors.  First, that they have agreed to be a reference for you.  And, yes, you should ask before you provide a hiring company with their name.  Second, they realize that being a reference for you may mean multiple calls over many months.
  2. Able: This means that they have the time (or will make the time) to be available.  And that they have worked close enough with you that they can speak about your accomplishments, leadership qualities and behavior.  With specific details.  Finally that they are comfortable with your work enough that they can provide you with a positive review.
  3. Relevant: They can speak to your role at the prior company with a context that will allow the hiring manager, HR person or recruiter to see value in their comments.  Relevance also refers to how old the reference is (how many years ago you worked together).  Within the last 5 years is best but the more recent the better.  Why?  Memories fade and you’ve changed since then.  Right?

Start by making a list 20 people you’ve worked with in your career.  All of your bosses, bosses peers in other departments, co-workers in and outside your department and direct reports (people who you supervised).  If you can get more than 20, great.

Make notes by each name.  Projects you worked on together, years, company, location, etc.  Once you have it all built, categorize them in a spreadsheet so you can get or update contact information (e-mail, cell, Twitter, etc).

Next comes the important part: getting in touch however you can.  To re-establish your connection, let them know about your job search (and your specific objectives) as well as asking if they would be available as a reference.

This will take some time but it is very important as references can make or break you with some hiring companies.  And you get to do some career networking along the way.

In your spreadsheet, also include columns to identify when their names were provided and whether they were called.  It’s one of the ways to manage their actual usage.  Something like this:

job search, references, spreadsheet, interview tips

There’s probably a lot more detail you can add to your spreadsheet.  No more would fit here on this screen.


There are a number of options here.  Out of your 20 possibles, you will choose 10 finalists (willing, able and relevant).  And those 10 people deserve to hear from you during your job search and in between your searches.  So that they remain aware of what you are up to and interested in your career.

Here are a six ways to consider:

  1. Friend them on Facebook (send them a birthday greeting, like or comment on their updates or photos)
  2. Follow them on Twitter (re-tweet their content or ideas, add them to a list of top people in your industry)
  3. Set up a quarterly or twice yearly update – short, friendly, and informative via e-mail
  4. Add them to your networking update
  5. Add them to the mailing of your family holiday letter
  6. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn and/or Plaxo – that way their contact info is self-updating.

So now I’d love to get your comments.  What criteria do you use for choosing references?  And how do you keep in touch?

And be sure to come back for part two: How To Prep And Avoid Over-Use Of Your References

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Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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