Work references don’t always get checked, but when they do, they can be pure gold and that extra boost that helps you land the job instead of your competitor.  But, you don’t just want any reference saying you did a “good job,” you want a glowing reference.

How do you get one of those?  There’s no guarantees available, but if you follow these steps, you can dramatically increase your chances:

  1. Do exceptional work.  Just like businesses who provide the best product or service find themselves receiving the most attention, your best advertising is to do exceptional work while employed.  It’s tough sometimes, because you may have a boss who never seems satisfied.   But, if you know the expectations for performance your boss sets in place, then exceed them.  Ask for additional responsibilities when you succeed at your current ones.  Do things without being asked.  When it comes time to move on to a more lucrative position, you give your boss every reason to give you his highest praise.
  2. Be proactive.  If you know you’re going to begin a job search soon, start working on locating those references now.  Employers typically want to see 3 to 5 of them.  Sometimes, it takes several weeks before you finally get in touch with someone to see if they’re willing to be a reference.  If you can, think of way more than you need, and then choose the most applicable ones when you know who will serve as a reference.
  3. Choose very wisely – Someone who talks about how wonderful you are will work as a reference, but they’re not the best.  The most effective references you can have are those in key leadership positions in your organization who can recall specific projects or results in which you were a key part.  If you can’t find a leader willing to be a reference, ask a coworker to do so.  The more specifically they can talk about you and your performance at the company, the better.
  4. Communicate.  Once you have those references lined up, make sure you have all the most recent contact information for each.  If you think the person is likely to receive a call soon, let them know.  Briefly outline the key skills your new position will entail.  Hopefully, your reference will then begin to think of several reasons or specific work scenarios that will make you a good fit for the job.
  5. For companies that only give out neutral information.  If your company only gives out neutral information like dates employed and your salary, you may be able to work out an agreement where your manager can speak about you in a way that doesn’t violate company policy.  Remember, hiring companies rarely only stick to your provided references.  Often, they’ll call other companies you’ve worked for in the past.  The only person they won’t call is your current employer.

Follow These Tips to Get Great References

You can never control what other people will say about you, but if you follow these tips, you maximize the chances you have for getting the most effective references.