Hey, military spouse! You are (once again) on the job hunt! Congrats!
You’ve got the skills to perform above and beyond at the positions you applied for, but now you have to prove it with some killer professional references. Even if you aren’t PCSing in the near future or looking for a new job, it’s always a good idea to have your professional references ready.
This week is the week that you cultivate and prepare a ready list of potential professional references as part of NextGen MilSpouse’s You Got This: 52 Challenges to Make 2016 Your Bitch.
Week 19 Challenge: Build Your Professional References List
Challenge Details: Spend 1 hour this week building your list of potential professional references. You need to have at least 3 references that you can put on your resume or job applications. Your professional references should know that you are using them as professional references and be ready to speak positively about you to potential employers.
Your Deadline: May 16
Bonus points if you request endorsements or write endorsements for your peers on LinkedIn this week.
Asking for professional references can get awkward. After all, you are asking someone that paid you money to tell someone else about how awesome you are, essentially on demand. It’s weird, especially since you are either leaving that job or used to work for this person.
Luckily, there are a few basic and easy steps to help cultivate and keep an evolving list of potential professional references.
1. Always, always leave a job on good terms with your boss and coworkers.
You want these people to look back fondly and say,
“Gosh, I really miss working with (insert your name here). He/She was so (insert quality here).”
This makes all the other steps way easier to accomplish.
If you did leave a job on less than glorious terms, see tip #5.
2. Before you put a person on the referral list, give a heads-up.
Imagine you got called, out of the blue, to recommend your babysitter from 5 years ago for a job. That look of baffled surprise is identical to the one your former employers will be wearing when your new potential boss calls them.
A formal, written letter isn’t necessary. A quick email or phone call does the trick. Here is a basic email template that I have used when reaching out to my professional references:
Dear (Former Boss),
I am applying for positions in (your field here) as a (specific job title(s) here) in (location). I believe that you can offer valuable insight and a positive reflection on my time working for you.
May I include you on the list of professional references for these job applications?
Then you wait for your potential references to respond.
3. Did you notice the word “positive” in my email reference request? It’s there for a reason.
Anything less than a glowing, angels-are-singing reference is a negative reference. You don’t want someone to say tepid things about your professional performance because it makes you look average.
No one wants to hire average; they want outstanding.
When you are leaving a position, ask your supervisor and colleagues point blank about references. “Would I be able to include you as a positive reference for future employment?” Keep a mental note of their answer and only request references from people who responded with an immediate “YES!”
4. Make sure that your references have a connection to your field of work or the position you want.
For example, I’m a teacher. I would not ask my boss at the ice cream stand I worked at in high school to serve as a reference. Ice cream and teaching do not match up at all.
I can and do ask other teachers I have worked closely with to serve as references. I have also asked private tutoring clients to provide references. Tutoring and classroom teaching are the exact career field I am in.
If your past jobs don’t quite match up or you are making a career change, don’t sweat it though. If you needed to go back to school for this career, ask your professors, teachers and advisors.
If you have past employers who can speak about your work ethic and motivation to work, that’s perfect. If you volunteered in a similar position, ask your supervisor to speak on your behalf. There are options out there!
5. Know who to ask and when.
So, that high school ice cream stand boss? She is not on my list of references. Not because I left on bad terms or because I did bad work. It’s because it happened over a decade ago. That boss very likely doesn’t remember me at all.
The principal, vice principal and my grade level teachers at my last teaching job are on my reference list. I left my last teaching position a year ago, I did good work and my colleagues remember me as a professional.
As you are looking at your list of former employers, ask yourself:
- When did I work there? Anything more than a few years ago might be pushed off the list.
- Did I leave on good terms? If you got fired or outright quit, don’t even consider it.
- Was I memorable? If you have to remind the person who you are, chances are that their reference will be generic. Generic doesn’t work for you. You want amazing professional references.
6. Check back in with your references and sincerely thank them.
You don’t need to send flowers.
An email or handwritten thank you note is perfect. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for a job well done. In your email or note, be specific about what you are thankful for, include comments about how much you enjoy or miss working at your old position, and what you are looking forward to in the future.
Plus, you can update your reference on your new job prospects.
With your glowing references, I’m betting your current employment status is: HIRED!