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Follow these tips to develop and maintain great references.

Reference are built over the span of your career.

Colleagues, Coworkers, and Clients may become a reference for you. If you are starting your career, keep in mind that everyone you work with could be a potential reference in the future.  This requires you to put your best effort forward each day.  Maintaining a list of professional references is as important as keeping your resume current.

Professional or personal reference?

Unless directed otherwise, use professional contacts for your references, not personal friends or relatives. If possible, your references should include someone you have worked for, worked with, or someone you have managed. It might be advantageous at times to provide people with whom you’ve worked in your community as a reference, if they can speak appropriately about your skills in the prospective job. For instance, if the job you’re applying for includes speaking to a board, you may want to include a board member who has heard you present so that they can speak to your presentation skills. If you are asked to provide personal references, the person should never be too personal, like family or friends who will always be considered biased. In this situation, it would be to use people with whom you volunteer, community leaders, or professors, but not your buddies.

Does this person know your skillset?

A reference check is an important part of an employer selecting the successful candidate. Make sure your reference is someone who knows your current skills and abilities and how your skills will be useful to the employer.  At the very least, this person should be able to speak about projects you managed, teams you managed, your leadership skills, your consistent contributions to an organization and your interpersonal skills. 

Tailor your references to the job.

Don’t make the mistake of using the same references for every job you apply for.  Just as you tailor your resume for a specific job, offer references that will reinforce your qualifications for the job you are seeking.  This will require you to have a list of references that will be able to speak to a variety of your accomplishments and skills, depending on the job you are seeking. 

Over the course of your career, as you work with a new client or with your colleagues, consider what information they can share if you ask them to be a reference in the future? 

It is very important that you communicate with your references on a regular basis so that each one can add meaningful input to the prospective employer.  References with whom you have not had contact in the recent past may not be able to share current information about your skills and abilities. 

Let your reference know each time you submit his or her name and to whom and for what organization.

Make contact with the reference as soon as you intend to submit their name for a job you are applying for.  This is a professional courtesy and allows you to share more about the job and the expectations of the employer. This also allows the reference to prepare and focus their comments to the employer’s needs.  A courtesy contact also allows you to check their availability to be a reference for you in a timely manner.  Do not assume the reference will be willing or able to be a reference for you at any time.  Make contact with them each time you use their name.

Is their contact information correct?

As you reach out to your references, confirm their contact information is current.  You will be asked to provide, at a minimum, the email address, phone number and the time zone in which your reference resides.  The employer will not look fondly upon not being able to readily contact your references. 

Remember to thank your reference.

It is important to thank your reference with a quick follow up call, rather than an email.  You have asked your reference to do you a big favor and this deserves a personal thank you rather than a quick email.