Posted by: G. Lane Cavalier | May 10, 2007

Career Development: Do You Have a Reference Document?

One of the most important and often under worked parts of your “My Company” collateral is a reference document.

Hopefully, everyone knows by now the importance of good references to a job search. The real question is “are you putting the effort in to correspond to the value?”. I know early in my job search a few years ago I didn’t. I think we naturally assume that we need to identify our references, make sure they are willing, make sure we have their contact information, and then we are set for when we need them.

I argue from experience that though this is the “minimum” standards, we should go a few steps further.

Create an addendum that can fit in with your resume, so that you can have it available when needed.

A good “Reference Document” should resemble your resume in formatting, it should include the following:

  1. Reference’s Name
  2. Reference’s Job Title and Company
  3. Reference’s Phone Contact
  4. Reference’s Email Contact
  5. Relationship to reference (former direct report, former peer, former supervisor)
  6. A one to two paragraph reference of you created from the person.

Item 6 is probably the one that is the most beneficial, since I think most everyone already gathers the first five pieces of data. Once someone agrees to be a reference for you, you should ask them to send you a brief one to two paragraph summary in writing. This provides two major benefits:

  • You have control to present reference information to people immediately when requested, the paragraph will give the hiring decision maker a point of reference and occasionally will suffice in lieu of an actual phone call. This is especially important when your references are people who are hard to reach quickly. Remember the goal is to make HIRING YOU easy!
  • It also provides the added benefit of allowing your reference to pre-think and formulate how they want to present you to someone else. I often do references for others, and sometimes it takes a few minutes for you to get “into” the reference call. I found having thought out and documented what I think a person’s strengths are makes me more confident as to what I am going to say.

From a logistics standpoint, I try to maintain a list of six (6) references on my reference document. A perfect blend in my opinion is to give two of each relationship categories. This allows the recruiter/decision maker to make up their own mind as to which references are most germane and gives them a sense of “random sampling.” The random sampling only reinforces the strength of your accomplishments to the sampler.

Remember, this is all about marketing. Getting off to the right foot by giving the reference checker a little taste of what they are going to hear sets the expectation that the reference call will be a good one. It also allows for the call to go more smoothly, giving a better flow and thus a better overall impression.

My current document includes a two paragraph summary from a former CIO (supervisor) who now teaches in a prestigious MBA program. In his paragraph, he relates my skills directly to MBA candidates and graduates, This is a huge plus since I haven’t completed my Bachelor’s degree. He effectively helps me before even speaking with the reference checker to overcome a known/perceived weakness.

Your Mileage May Vary!



  1. Also, if you can get good “recommendations” in your LinkedIn profile, then you may be able to bypass this step entirely.

    I have had hunters tell me, on their INITIAL call, that I was being fast tracked to the decision maker. They admitted that they had already talked to some of my references. (I knew that because the references were calling, emailing, or IMing me to tell me someone was checking. But I didn’t let on.) While I never landed in one of those slots, (the position on further inspection wasn’t for me), it was nice to rocket to the front of the line.

    It’s like judo, relax and use your opponent for your benefit. In this case, allow the seeker to see you at your best.

  2. Thanks FJohn,

    That is a great point that I should have included, recommendations in LinkedIn are like money, you can’t ever have too many!

  3. Mr. Cavalier –

    Great ideas. The only suggestion this recruiter can make is to include a physical location. Knowing where they live helps me avoid calling your east coast boss after work, or your Hawaiian reference at 4:00AM local time. When I have to check a reference, I need it to go as fast as possible.

    (Yeah, I should have all the area codes memorized, but I don’t.)

  4. Thanks Troy,

    That is also a good idea that I will incorporate. That’s what I love about this forum the amount of quality advice you receive.

    Many thanks

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