If you are starting a job search, you probably haven’t given much thought to your references. Most likely, you’ve focused on your resume, networking, interview skills, and what to wear to the interview.

But regardless of how good your resume is or how skillfully you interview, your references can make or break your chances of landing a new job. So, it pays to stay on the radar of former supervisors, coworkers and customers who can provide glowing recommendations about you to prospective employers.

To do that, you must regularly re-evaluate and reconnect with your references to ask permission to list or continue to list them, express your appreciation, offer to reciprocate by being a reference for them, and get their updated contact information. In today’s turbulent economy, it’s more challenging to keep track of people who might have relocated due to mergers or downsizings.

Who makes the best references? People who have worked with you and will speak favorably on your behalf: besides former supervisors, clients and coworkers, you can include former subordinates and vendors who frequently interacted with you. A broad mix of professionals on your reference list will give hiring managers a perspective on how you deal with various levels of personnel.

When reaching out to current and potential references, be sure to communicate the following:

  • Acknowledge their importance / value to you. (i.e., why you respect them; why you value their opinion of you and your work)
  • Explain that you intend to begin a job search soon.
  • Ask their permission to be used as a reference.
  • Clarify that no action is required at this time.
  • Inform them that you’ll contact them when officially begin your search.

Here’s a suggested script (for phone or email) which you can customize according to each reference situation:

“[Name of Reference] I’m [calling/writing] because we’ve known each other for a while, I respect you [add details] and I think you would be a good reference for me in my job search. There is nothing you need to do for now. I just wanted to tell you about it and find out if it’s okay with you to be a reference in the very near future. I’ll contact you again when I’m ready to start interviewing and will provide you with a copy of my resume. I really appreciate your help.”

After your reference agrees to help you, ask how he/she wishes to be contacted; then get his/her appropriate telephone numbers, mailing address, email, etc. Download this form to help organize this information.

One caveat: if you are currently employed, I recommend using only outside references, meaning no one from your present employer. When filling out applications, explain that your supervisor would give you a great reference (as long as this is true) but you wish to keep your job search confidential. In most states, employers use “at will” hiring practices; this means they could terminate you, without warning, if they suspect you are job searching.

Good references are crucial during a job search and throughout your entire career. These strategies will help you build and maintain a network of people who can advocate for your candidacy, whenever you find yourself in a career transition.

© 2011-2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved. www.career-success-coach.com