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Be Prepared and Follow Proper Etiquette for Professional References

by Nancy Peterson

While preparing for a full-scale job search, one task is often overlooked until well into the actual search. That task is the identification of professional references. Too many job seekers launch a job search only to get thoroughly involved in the process of locating and applying for job opportunities. Even after they begin to get interviews, they can be left unprepared for that moment when a prospective employer requests references.

This is not the time to be unprepared and not the time to be scrambling to contact and confirm professional references. First of all, to a prospective employer, a complete list of references should be available at the appropriate time in the application process. Delays in providing or providing incomplete information can be interpreted as careless by a prospective employer and may not reflect well on your candidacy. Secondly, preparing a list of references in haste may result in a list that does not include your best advocates. You want to carefully think through your history and, if possible, select your best advocates rather than, perhaps, the references you can easily find. Finally, waiting until late in the process to contact your references is poor protocol and a bit disrespectful. Your prospective reference may perceive a late communication as a lack of respect, pressure to comply and very unprofessional. Don't burn a bridge to a good reference.

References are a reflection on you, the job candidate. Remember, your references will be investing valuable time in your job acquisition. Maintain a positive, professional relationship with your references by doing the following: 1. Contact your references early in your process and obtain permission to use their names, 2. Speak to references directly rather than trading email or voicemail, 3. Follow up with a gracious note thanking them for their support, 4. Provide a copy of your resume and any job description they will likely be contacted about, and 5. Keep them in the loop. References should be updated often regarding your job search so there will be no surprises about what is expected of them. If your job search continues for a considerable period of time and they have been contacted a number of times by prospective employers, do consult with them periodically for continued permission. In this situation, you may want to use your references judiciously so as not to deplete their goodwill.

References may be current or former clients, managers or supervisors, peers or team members, or even people you directly supervised. All can be valuable to you in landing that next great job so treat each one with professionalism and respect throughout your job search process.