“Can you give us 3 references?” 

A client recently reached out to me in a panic. She’d wrapped up the 3rd round of an interview process for a job she was super excited about, and now the recruiter had reached out for her references. This is a great sign, and usually means an offer is coming!

But, instead of celebrating, Nicole was scrambling. One of her key references hadn’t replied to her email, and another’s email had bounced back. What was she going to do?

How to Keep Great References

I’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s start with how to avoid the problem in the first place.  Maintaining great references over time takes intention and attention. Here’s what that might look like:

  1. Connect for a conversation or meaningful email exchange at least twice year.
  2. Share what’s going on in your job, what projects you’re working on, and what you are thinking about your career. Include any personal updates. Did you get engaged? Have you travelled? New hobbies? Give them enough so they feel caught up, and ask them about their lives too.
  3. Keep them up to date on the roles you’ve applied for if you are job hunting.
  4. Ask them to update you if their contact information changes.
  5. Let them know when you get interviews, with a heads up they may get a call. Sometimes a reference is how you find out you’re a finalist!
  6. Help them help you by sharing the specific skills/abilities you’d like them to highlight when they get the call.

Now, if this all escaped your attention, and you’re caught unprepared like Nicole, don’t panic. Peers can make great references, as long as they can comment on your work and they are transparent that they weren’t your boss. Professors and people you volunteered with can work too. Just be sure to prep them with the most important things they should say based on the role.