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References in the Search Process: How to Maximize Their Benefit


In the search process for a new job, references are outward representations of candidates. They advocate for candidates and provide them with a competitive advantage. For these reasons, references are extremely important components of the search process and should be chosen with intentionality and in advance.

To “get the most out of your reference,” allowing for the greatest benefit in the search process, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Choose your reference: When choosing a reference, there are many points to check for: does this person know you well enough, is this person willing to be your reference, and does this individual want to advocate on your part? In considering these questions, it is important to choose a reference who knows you well, meaning they can provide a comprehensive and holistic perspective of your strengths and places of improvement. For technical positions, specifically, this individual can speak to your technical abilities, which we like to call “tech-chops.” It’s also important that your reference speaks with positivity, engagement, and energy, and that they can speak on specific topics: projects, accomplishments, how you collaborate with teammates, communication styles, etc.
  2. Reach out to your reference: Following the hardest step of this process, the question of how to reach out to a reference is raised. Traditionally, most references are a mix of managerial references from previous companies and former or present colleagues who you have worked with closely and know your skillset. When making the ask, try to do so in person or on a phone call instead of via email. When asking, provide context. Make sure they know what jobs you’re looking for and the details of the search. In doing so, you are able to help a reference understand the value that they provide and help them prepare to discuss your attributes.
  3. Keep your reference updated: When choosing and reaching out to a reference, you should make sure they are reliable, committed, and available to connect with employers. Following these expectations, however, is two sided: candidates must also communicate updates with the search and interview process. Adhering to this two-way system of expectations and transparency allows candidates and references to be prepared for calls and questions that require specific reference testimonials.
  4. Express gratitude: While this step happens seamlessly throughout the reference process, a physical note of gratitude is highly recommended and appreciated. People receive and delete emails all of the time, but handwritten notes may be left on desks or even saved. By writing a handwritten note, a candidate shows deep appreciation for the reference’s commitment and aid.

When choosing a reference, think about the who and the representation of you. Specifically, be thoughtful in your selection, ask in advance of your job search, and communicate throughout your journey of finding a new job.