A good reference can easily assure a prospective employer that you’re right for the job. But what makes a good reference? It should be someone accomplished and respected in your particular field, whether that’s network engineering, front-end development, or data science. But he or she can’t be on the periphery of your work experience; ideally, you should have worked with the person in the past five years, and he or she should have the ability to really speak about your actions and day-to-day responsibilities.
Educating Your References
If you want your references to truly be helpful, you must update them frequently about your career, said Kristen Coppins, a director at Professional Staffing Group, a Massachusetts staffing firm. Even people who are good about keeping resumes and cover letters updated often forget to reach out to their references and educate them about current work experience, she added. If you haven’t touched base with your references in a while, make sure to do it before you send off your resume. Job applicants also need to make sure their references know exactly what jobs they’re applying for. “Tell your reference why you’re making the transition,” Coppins said. That will help the reference better angle responses to any question the prospective employer might have.
Go the Extra Mile
If it’s been some time since you’ve spoken to your references, skip the email and pick up the phone, said Jeff Remis, branch manager of the national IT practice at Addison Group
, a staffing and recruitment firm: “The phone is the best way to reconnect with old references. It’s much easier to come across as genuine when you’re asking for a favor over the phone compared to via email.” If you need to jog the person's memory, mention a big project you worked on together, and get as specific as possible. Fill your references in on your progress, too. “Subtly remind them of key milestones or accomplishments,” Remis added. Let them know you’ll send over an updated resume, as well.
Use the Right Reference
Managing your references also means using the right references for the right job, Coppins said. Make sure you have the details right, such as preferred phone number, title, and company. “We’re not going to chase down someone’s references. It speaks to who you are as a professional. If I can’t get your references quickly, it can reflect poorly on you.”
Make sure your references know what to emphasize. Your programming prowess and other technical skills are certainly going to come up in a discussion with a prospective employer, but you’ll also likely need your references to speak about your soft skills, as well as business acumen. According to Jeffrey Palermo, CEO of Clear Measure, tech professionals need leadership skills, as well as technical skills: “We also want to know if they have the emotional intelligence to work well in teams, effectively communicate and hear what business users want, and can translate that into business results.” In other words, help your references understand all of the skills that you bring to the table.