Specific, concise, results-centered references are an important part of a job search. Hiring managers and HR people want to know what others think about the candidate they are considering. In fact, many companies make this a mandatory part of the process. The HR folks will not be doing their jobs nor will they advance even the best candidate in the process without this box checked.
Here are the five things that you will make your references another compelling part of your career marketing package, supplementing and complementing your résumé, cover letter and LinkedIn profile.
Get them now. Don’t wait until you start your job search to get well-written recommendations into your portfolio. If you are especially marketable, the process could move faster than you thought. You don’t want to be empty-handed when asked for them.
Direct the reference writer. When you ask someone to write a reference for you, tell the person what you would like her/him to write about. Remind her about the project you worked on. Ask him to discuss your negotiating skills and how it helped your company get pricing concessions. If you don’t, all of your references will say “Jim is a great guy” or “Mary is a team player who multitasks well.” You don’t want generic mush. You want focused, valuable and diverse letters that create a comprehensive picture of you, your abilities and your accomplishments. You have to direct the process.
Get durable contact information. By durable, I mean at least one way to contact the referrer that is not dependent on employment. If you and Travis worked together at IBM and Travis has since moved on to another company, what good will Travis’s IBM email address and phone number be? A LinkedIn profile address is good, as is a personal email address. Keep them current.
Make it easy. Make life easy for the person giving you the recommendation. Offer to write the letter for him or her. You write it, your buddy Travis reads it, copies it and pastes it into the letter format of his choice. Done! Don’t feel nervous about this. Instead, know that you are making it easier for people to help you. They are doing something that they wanted to do and you have done most of the work for them. Everyone wins.
Create a LinkedIn version. A recommendation letter may be several paragraphs long. A LinkedIn recommendation should be just a few lines. Depending on your relationship with the referrer, offer to write a condensed version of the recommendation and ask Travis to post it to your LinkedIn profile as a recommendation that the world can see. Then you can tell an interviewer that you have more complete letters of recommendation that support the LinkedIn versions.
If you do these things, you will be more marketable and more confident. After all, you already know what your referrers are going to say. That confidence will come through as you interview and you just might become the top candidate.