Asking a former boss or colleague for a reference or a referral can be a daunting task. It’s uncomfortable to ask someone to do such a meaningful favour, but a good reference can put you at the top of the list of candidates for your dream job. It’s worth the trouble of asking personally, and thoughtfully.
Here are the definitive Do’s and Dont’s of requesting a referral:
DO put some thought into your reference list ahead of time. Making a short list of those contacts you think could enthusiastically endorse you, and who have sufficient seniority that their endorsement would carry weight with hiring influencers.
DON’T list references without asking them. Not only is it rude, doing so places your former boss or colleague in an awkward position of having to think of what to say out of the blue instead of having time to think about how to support your job candidacy.
DO contact your potential reference by phone or in person. You are not only asking for a favour, but you’re listening or watching for any hint of hesitation. A lukewarm recommendation, or even simple discomfort, can cause a hiring influencer to judge the reference as a poor endorsement of your skills, experience, and fitness for the position. You’re looking for contacts who can give you a glowing reference.
DO give your reference some basic information: About who will be contacting them, and about the position you’re seeking. This helps your reference know what information and examples would be most helpful to the hiring influencer. You may not always be free to share the name of the company, but the position and duties are usually acceptable to give to your reference.
DO inquire about what is convenient for your reference. What days and times are best to give a reference, and which contact information would they prefer you pass along?
DO pass those preferences along. Give the preferred contact information and optimal times for contact on to your recruiter or other hiring influencer. This makes everyone’s job easier.
DON’T forget to say thanks. A handwritten thank-you note for your reference is ideal, but an email will suffice.
DO stay in contact. It’s far easier to give a reference for someone you have an ongoing relationship with, so reach out to your network and stay in touch. An email every month or so, a call or a coffee date every six months is plenty to stay in touch and be available to them, too, as a reference.
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