thumbs up
Photos by Getty Images

Update Your Job References

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: It's been a while since I've looked for a job, and I realize I haven't kept up with the people who provided references for me during my last job search. What should I do to get new references?

A: References are key to you landing your dream job. They are also a vital part of your personal network, so it was a big mistake to lose touch with them. You should always remain in close contact with your references—even when you're not job hunting.

But, since you are selecting new references, you need to think deeply about who knows you and the quality of your work. You also want to select available and dependable references because sometimes hiring managers or recruiters want to get a quick callback. I've heard cases where someone has lost a job opportunity because the recruiter couldn't reach their references. For instance, it's probably not a good idea to use someone who travels 90 percent of the time, never returns messages, or turns off all electronic devices at 5:00 p.m.

Once you've decided whom to ask, I suggest that you send them your resume electronically with a message that asks if they would agree to serve as a reference. If they agree, tell them that when you give their contact information to a recruiter, you will always notify them to expect a call or an email.

Your references should be dependable people who know you and the quality of your work.

However, don't just let your references know they will be getting calls—more important, share what the job duties are, and, if possible, send them a copy of the job description. Give them specific work examples or qualities that you'd like them to emphasize. For example, if the job requires someone who is a great speaker, ask your reference to share a time when you made a particularly effective presentation and discuss the positive results. Taking this extra step ensures that your reference provides information to help the organization make a good hiring decision, which enhances your chances of getting a job offer.

Also, ask your references to send you a quick message after they talk with the recruiter so you know the organization is seriously considering you for the job. Of course, thank all of your references profusely and let them know if you accept the position. Finally, be sure to follow up with your new contact information so you will never lose touch again!

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

More Resources

Looking for more help with selecting quality references? Use our third-party professional reference checking service to be confident your references are giving prospective employers helpful feedback on your most valuable qualities and skills.

Job Search Interviewing