Best Practices Regarding Your Employment References

We recommend you start your job search with your references.  For most people, reference checks are commonly one of the final steps in the job search process. Prospective employers normally complete reference checks right before a formal offer of employment is extended.  So why start there?  The reason is that a lot of hard work and time goes into a job search.  You certainly don’t want to go through all the trouble of a job search just to find out that you cannot locate your former bosses or to find that company policy will not allow them to serve as a reference for you. Worse yet, you could find out that they are unlikely to provide a positive reference. For these reasons, the best time to begin thinking about and contacting your references is early in your search, not at the last minute.  Begin with these 3 tasks:

  1. Locate and speak directly with the potential references. Email is great for many things but please pick up the phone. You’ll be able to communicate much more effectively through a conversation.
  2. Make sure that they can provide a positive reference. Emphasize that you want to be sure that they are comfortable providing a positive reference. If they cannot assure you of that, then thank them for their time and find another reference.
  3. Let each reference know that in the weeks or months ahead, you’ll be back in contact with them with the specifics of who will be calling from which company.

During your job search, it is important to keep in periodic contact with your references.  If you know that an offer is likely going to be made and that they will be calling your references, call your references first.  Make sure they are aware of who will be calling from what company and just as important, make sure to communicate your keen interest in the position.  It is absolutely imperative that you re-confirm the fact that they can provide a positive reference. Make sure that they understand the importance of a positive employment reference.  I strongly suggest you tell the reference something to the effect of, “Great, I’m really pleased that you can provide a positive reference.  I’m very excited about this opportunity and I’m very hopeful to be offered the position.  I’m sure your reference will be a help.”  The purpose of this statement is to say “Don’t mess this up for me, I really want this job!”  Occasionally, some reference providers try to provide both sides, the positives and the negatives. All I can say is “Ugh!”  This type of “balanced” reference runs the risk of spending too much time on a small, relatively minor issue when overall they feel great about the person that they are providing the reference for.

After the reference is provided to the company, you should send the reference a thank you note.  Email thank you notes are acceptable.

NOTE: The above is an excerpt from Achieving Your Pinnacle: A Career Guide for Actuaries, by Tom Miller, Copyright 2013. It is reprinted here with permission.