Nearly every resume I saw early in my career had the words “references available upon request” at the bottom. Few professional resume writers include this phrase today. Nonetheless, I receive many questions about references from clients.
Professional references are critical even if we say nothing about them on our resumes. Virtually every job application I’ve seen online or on paper has spaces for three or more references, and some job announcements ask for a reference list to be sent with our resume. References will be checked before you are hired. You will not be hired if you get a “bad” reference, or if you cannot provide references with current contact information.
A good project to do while we are home during the Pandemic is to refresh our reference list. I suggest the following 3 strategies to get the process started:
- Select references that can vouch for your work,
- Identify more than 3 references,
- Get LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements for additional social proof.
Select references that can answer questions about your work.
Occasionally, I receive calls from hiring managers that are checking references for former co-workers. This is always a great learning experience for me because I find out what employers ask about job candidates through these calls. Among other things, I’m usually asked:
- In what capacity did I work with the candidate,
- What was the job candidate’s role when we worked together,
- How long did we work together or how long did I know the job candidate,
- What do I think the candidate is good at, and
- Would I hire this job candidate again if I were a hiring manager?
The people you select as references should be people that can answer these, or similar, work related questions about you. Some job-seekers ask friends, neighbors, job counselors, social service workers, or close family members to be references. They may not be able to answer work related questions about you. Also, many employers exclude close family members as potential references.
A young school teacher that facilitated resume writing classes with me when she was between jobs asked me to be one of her references. I was glad to help because I know her work. Subsequently, I answered reference-check questions about her from an elementary school principal in Orlando, Florida.
On the other hand, I discourage clients at employment programs I have worked for from including me as a reference because I do not know their work. I have made exceptions for former clients that have worked alongside me as volunteers to facilitate programs because I can vouch for their competence.
Check-in with the people you use as references periodically to make sure they are still available. The best way to do this is through a phone call, Zoom meeting, or personal meeting, if permissible in your locality. Touching base via email, text, or even social media may be sufficient if the person knows you well.
In other words, choose people that can answer the most common questions, are willing to respond, and that can be contacted readily.
Have more than three references.
Job applications usually ask us to provide contact information for three professional references. I recommend that job-seekers select more than three references. There are two reasons for this. First, more than one potential employer may call at about the same time for a reference check. Your potential reference may not want to answer the same questions repeatedly from different people. Second, a reference may not be available at the time an employer calls. One of the professors I used as a reference for a prestigious summer internship was unavailable, I later learned, because he was “out of the country negotiating on behalf of the State department.” He did not return the reference checker’s call. This may be the reason I was not selected for the internship.
A strategy that may have worked in this case is to secure reference letters in advance. Some online applications offer an opportunity to upload additional documents. You can also include reference letters you garner in advance in your portfolio binder or digital portfolio. A prospective employer will still want references they can contact.
Include LinkedIn in your strategy.
LinkedIn has two features that allow colleagues to vouch for you—recommendations and endorsements. The recommendation function allows colleagues to add comments about working with you to the “Recommendations” section of your profile. LinkedIn’s endorsement function allows your connections to vouch for one of more of the skills you list in the “Skills and Endorsement” section of your profile.
Recommendations on LinkedIn offer “social proof” of your expertise while endorsements weigh more heavily when potential employers do searches. You can request recommendations from first-level LinkedIn connections, and also give recommendations to members of your first-level LinkedIn network.
The endorsement feature allows members to click on one or more skills for your connections to indicate that you know they have the skill. LinkedIn will note if the endorser is also “highly skilled” on the competency he or she endorses you for. Connections can add endorsements with just one click, so it is relatively easy to get endorsements. You can see recommendations and endorsements on my LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn recommendations can be more difficult to get because your connection must take the time to write something. This also makes the recommendation more powerful than an endorsement. The limitation, of course, is that a LinkedIn recommendation is not confidential like a traditional reference. The recommendation will also not answer the specific questions your prospective employer wants to ask everyone providing references for specific job candidates.
Your LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements compliment your references. They will not replace the need to have traditional references your prospective employer can speak to directly.
It is essential to have references—people that know our work well—to vouch for us, even though it is no longer common practice to include this information on your resume. Employers will contact references and ask very specific questions.
Please share your comments and experiences with finding references, having your references checked, or serving as a reference for others either here, or at our Resumes that Shine Facebook page. We will also be glad to answer questions about your reference and LinkedIn recommendation strategy. Just click the free consultation link below.