If you are like most folks you’ve been using the same people as your references for a while. At one point you asked some previous supervisors to be a reference, or maybe they even gave you a letter of recommendation when you moved on to a new job.

[Who makes a great reference? Check out this quick video]

Here’s a harsh truth: These references may not give you great references, and not because they wouldn’t love to do that. It’s just that they rarely have enough information.

Starting a job search is the perfect time to re-engage with the people who at some point kindly agreed to say nice things about you. It might feel awkward, especially if it’s been a while, but I’m suggesting you lean into that and do it anyway. Here’s why:

  1. You can reestablish the connection on your terms, politely and professionally reminding them of what you appreciated about your time working together.
  2. You can bring them up-to-date with the jobs you’ve held, and any new skills you’ve built, and let them know what you are looking for in your next role. (Who knows? They may have a lead!)
  3. You can tell them specifically what you would like them to highlight if they get a call from HR or a hiring manager, and ask them if they are comfortable with that or need details.

I did #3 about 20 years with a woman I’d been using as a reference for a while. When I asked her what she thought was my greatest skill when we worked together, she said I was a good writer. Nice, but not what I was going for at the time. She recalled nothing of my work with program management and external relations and she told me she didn’t think she could speak to that (even though it was 80% of my role).

It turns out that sometimes what people value and remember about our contributions is the thing that helped them most – which may or may not be what the hiring manager needs in our next role.

So, be in touch with your references. This isn’t something you want to take a chance on. And, always, always, give them a heads up when they may get a call!

Cheers to your career!


Ever wonder how to land the job of your dreams?
Find out how with 10 Habits of Successful Job Candidates!