Job Seeking? How to Have an A+ Reference

What to Know When Asking for Professional References

Jan 20, 2021
Management and Organization

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Getting a job sometimes takes a village. And standout professional references can be impactful in landing an employment offer, says Maryland Smith’s Rachel Loock.

“When it comes to getting a reference, the responsibility ultimately falls on the job seeker to cultivate their network,” says Loock, a career coach at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Keep people involved in your career and let them know what kinds of jobs you’re looking for or what you’re up to so that a reference request doesn’t seem out of the blue.”

Staying in contact with acquaintances and keeping your close network up-to-date with the latest versions of your resume are good places to start, Loock says. If you’re actively interviewing, you should have 3-5 professional references lined up in advance who can speak to the quality of your work. She also recommends the following practices for making sure your references offer testimonials that have recruiters rushing to make you an offer:

Be specific about what you need. Every job is different, and references can speak to the qualities, skills or characteristics that are most pertinent to the position you’re applying for. “Let the recommender know what is best for them to focus on in their reference,” says Loock. “It’s a great proactive step that helps tailor effective references. Maybe a company is looking for a strong team player or a good communicator. Sharing that information with the recommender will put them in a better position to help you.”

Be sure to check in. If you started job hunting in October but didn't get any traction until January, think about updating your reference network with what’s happened since then, Loock says. Checking in periodically can even be as simple as a brief text message or email, depending on how close someone is to their recommender. “Fill them in about where you started and where you are now. Let them know whether you’re still actively searching and/or update them about any interviews that have progressed to the second (or third) round at a company.”

Always ask for permission. Consider reaching out to those who have served as references in the past and following up to determine whether it’s permissible to continue using their contact information or if there are any updates to their contact information, Loock says. “You’re making it easier for the person giving the reference. It’s a great touchpoint that prevents references from feeling caught off guard in the event a recruiter happens to reach out to them.”

Look for help wherever you can. Professionals in your extended network can oftentimes provide valuable information. Perhaps somebody who is a more distant connection has your dream job or is working at your dream company. They may be open to connecting you with others or sitting down for an informational interview. “LinkedIn is no substitute for personal contact, but it does provide a lot of prompters to connect with people,” says Loock. “So when a key connection gets a promotion or lands a new job, or achieves a work anniversary, it's really easy to send a ‘Congratulations,’ to stay in touch and potentially arrange a meeting in the future.”





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Jan 20, 2021
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Map of Robert H. Smith School of Business
University of Maryland
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Van Munching Hall
College Park MD 20742