5 Tips for Building and Maintaining a Strong List of References


References are often put on the back burner when there are resumes and cover letters to be written, but they can make or break your job search. Accordingly, ensuring reference lists are complete and up to date should be a priority in the job search and interviewing process.

The key is to keep professional references front of mind well before you begin a job search. That way, you’ll have an updated reference list at hand when an opportunity presents itself. More importantly, you won’t need to call an old contact who you haven’t worked with in, say, five years out of the blue and ask him or her to vouch for your work ethic which, quite frankly, he or she isn’t all that familiar with anymore.

The following tips can help you build and maintain a strong reference list.

Choose your references wisely.

It’s important to choose individuals who you’re certain will give you a glowing recommendation. Oftentimes this will be a supervisor, but it can also be a colleague, contractor, client, or professor with whom you’ve worked closely. Regardless of the relation, your references should be familiar with your skills and past and/or present work projects. When in doubt about what a reference might say about you, it’s best to choose another person who you’re sure will give you a positive endorsement.

Choose professional references over personal references wherever possible. While family members and friends surely think you’re impressive, employers know they are biased.

Finally, always ask permission to add an individual to your reference list.

Keep the lines of communication open.

It is crucial to reach out to your references regularly, even if you aren’t actively job searching. Reconnect every few months by extending a hello, sharing an article that is relevant to their industry, and keeping them posted about your career development. If you haven’t spoken to your references in years, don’t be surprised if you don’t receive a stellar recommendation.

Always keep an updated list of 3 to 4 references on file.

Just as it’s important for your references to know what you’ve been up to, so too should you keep tabs on them. Make note of changes in employment and contact information to ensure that your reference list is accurate and up-to-date. You don’t want a prospective employer addressing your reference by the wrong title or reaching an outdated phone number or email address.

Let your references know they might be contacted.

Once you do begin job searching, keep your references in the loop. Tell them about the job(s) to which you’ve applied, share an updated copy of your resume, and discuss why you think your skills and experience fit the bill.

Thank your references and thank them again.

Whether you get the job or not, keep your references informed throughout the interview process and, of course, thank them repeatedly.

By choosing the right references, maintaining communication before and throughout your job search, keeping documents up to date, and practicing graciousness, you’ll build strong relationships with your relationships who in turn will be more willing to assist you, helping you meet your career goals.

Brittany Renken is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Steve Ressler

I like it. One thing I’ve found useful is getting more context from the person I’m being a reference for. For example, “Steve – wanted to let you know X company will be contacting you from a job I applied for. The X company/agency does Y so would be great if you could share information about Z project we worked on or my experience doing B”