How to Get a Glowing Reference Every Time

References are an important take-away from any job. Having a good reference can be the difference between winning a job and losing it. Here are a few tips on how to get good references from guest blogger Amy Feind Reeves of JobCoachAmy.

Amy Feind Reeves
September 26, 2016

References can be the most important thing you take away from a job. A great reference will win you the job over other finalists. It can help you bargain for an increased salary. The best reference comes from someone who has managed you directly and worked with you closely on extended and sophisticated work. If this person can vouch for your intellectual curiosity, work ethic, ability to remain calm under pressure, and attention to detail, it is money in the bank. 

However, anyone who says you show up on time, work hard. and do your job well is a reference of which you can be proud. As you conduct yourself in the workplace, remember this. Doing your job well enough to get a great reference happens to have exactly the same checklist as doing your job well enough to get internally promoted. So that works out well.

It is not a mystery as to what employers want in a reference. They are verifying the details of your resume, your work style and skills, and the personal style your interviewers felt would be a good fit for the role at hand. Here are a few tactics to make references easy and powerful:

  • Always ask in person (for internships or short term assignments, this means you need to ask before you leave a role). If you need to follow up after the fact, place a personal phone call rather than an email.
  • References matter a lot, so no matter how you get them, take any that are offered and ask for any that you think will be positive.
  • Most companies want to talk live to a reference rather than have a static document. When you ask a coworker or manager for a reference, you're asking if, at some undefined point in time in the future, they would be willing to receive a phone call from a player-yet-to-be-named to discuss your work performance. 

Making it easy for your reference is the best way to put yourself in a good light for the actual call. When you ask for a reference, follow the process below so that the references know that you are going to make it easy for them. They will be much more inclined to say yes if it does not mean a lot of extra work for them. Here's the best process to use:

  • For each reference, create a 1-2 page document that clearly outlines the work you have done with this person.  
  • Include the tasks you were asked to complete, some measure of performance (completed on time or ahead of schedule, high quality insights, etc.).
  • Include the things you really liked about doing this work (detail-oriented, loved doing research, enjoyed writing the final presentation. etc.).
  • Include any other information that you think would make this person remember you fondly (they liked you so much they asked you to their home for dinner, you talked about your shared interest in boat building).
  • They now have a bulleted list with your information readily available. You have basically written the recommendation for them.  
  • When you go to discuss recommendations, bring this document with you, or attach it to an email. If asking by phone, promise to forward.
  • When you know the reference is going to be getting a call, give them a heads up, and send this document again, so it’s handy. 

Note: If the company with which you are interviewing wants to talk to your current direct manager, you are under no obligation to provide the name and phone number. Because you have not yet received an offer, it would likely endanger your current position to have a potential employer speak to your current employer. The company should be willing to work with you to find a previous manager or a peer at your current company who is familiar with your goals.

Here are a few more good details to know about references.


Amy Feind Reeves is the Founder and CEO of JobCoachAmy, where she leverages her experience as a hiring manager to help new and seasoned professionals find jobs that make them happy. Her corporate practice focuses on managing millennials. Amy has enjoyed successful careers as a commercial banker, global management consultant, entrepreneur, corporate executive, and non-profit executive. Amy graduated cum laude from Wellesley College and earned an MBA at the Tuck School of Dartmouth College. She is on the Board of Directors of The Philanthropy Connection and teaches financial literacy to middle school students for WE FLY.  

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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