Tips and tricks for developing references

Q. I have applied for a new job, and am very interested. All has gone well, and they asked me for references, including one from my current boss. My current boss does not know I am looking, and if he did, it would make things awkward at work. The hiring manager wants to discuss with me why I opted not to have her speak with my boss. Is this a common request? How should I handle it?

A. Providing references is a common request for job seekers. Your references should be valued and protected. Their names should not be released too early in the job search process. If you do not yet have an offer for the new job, you can be very honest and let the hiring manager know that your current boss does not know you are looking and would be disappointed to lose you. Let her know you have other references that are available, and that you’d be happy to provide those after an offer is made. This should not be a surprise to the hiring manager. It is a common situation, and your candor about the need to protect your current situation, and your significant desire to join the new organization will hopefully generate the offer you need to move forward.

Job seekers often leave the necessary work involved in providing references until the end of the job search – the offer stage – which can cause serious mistakes in the process, and provide less than effective references. The development of references starts with:

1. Select. Select 6 to 8 people who can speak well about your many professional
talents. Choose people senior to you, your current and former manager,
peers, external consultants with whom you worked. They should be committed to your success, eager to help you and they should know your work well.

2. Ask. The question isn’t “Will you be a reference for me?”, but “Will you be a great reference for me?” You need advocates, not people who are lukewarm about your capabilities. Ask for permission. Do not list people as references if you have not asked and prepared them. Also know that just because you selected and asked a reference to support you, you may not choose to use them on some jobs, or at all.


3. Prepare. To do a good job as references, people need to be prepared. They must have a copy of your resume and be familiar with the contents. Prepare long before you actually need a reference to speak to anyone.

4. Present. When asked to provide references select the best, and most appropriate three from your prepared references. Provide name, title, relationship, email address, and the phone number where they can most easily be reached.

5. Communicate. Once you have given an interviewer your references, alert your reference to the job you are applying for and why is it such a great match. Provide a posting if possible. Explain any concerns the employer may have so that they can help overcome those objections. Provide the name, title, email address and phone number for the person who may be calling.

This process happens for each opportunity which gets to reference request stage. Stay in close contact with your references as they help you take job search activity to a successful ending.

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