Article, You Can Create Superb References by Sharon Graham :

You Can Create Superb References
Sharon Graham, CPRW, CEIP, CRS, CIS

In the last few years, reference checking has been steadily growing in popularity. Current sources indicate that background and reference checks are commonly performed in over 75% of middle management to senior level positions. More importantly, formal reference checking organizations assert that up to 20% of all candidates are eliminated due to poor or questionable references.

If you are in the midst of a job search, it is likely that you will be asked to provide a reference. Reference checking usually starts as you near the end of your interview process. So, it is absolutely critical that you produce the very best references to close the deal.

At various points, throughout your career, you will run across excellent professional contacts. Work to establish long-term trusting relationships with these key people. As each relationship builds, you will be able to ask for and get a stellar letter of recommendation. In no time, you will have created an outstanding endorsement portfolio consisting of a choice set of professional references. Here are the steps to creating superb references:

1- Select the Very Best

Carefully consider whom you will choose to represent you to your prospective employer. Select a good variety of your very best references. Choose about six professional business or academic references. Consider board members, senior managers, supervisors, co-workers, employees, professors, customers, vendors, and project leaders. If possible, avoid using family members as references.

Think strategically about your choice for a reference. Identify the individuals that will represent you in the very best light. Whenever possible, choose contacts that know you well, genuinely like you, and appreciate your value as a business professional. Select only people who will speak positively about you, your background, accomplishments, qualifications, and work ethic.

Your references should have strong communication skills and be able to focus on business. They should be secure and use thoughtfulness and restraint when responding to questions about you. Avoid using individuals with strong personalities or big egos. It is likely that they will minimize or undermine you in favour of inflating themselves.

Always receive permission from your contact prior to giving his or her name out as a reference. If your contact has any reservations whatsoever, graciously accept his or her decision and find another reference.

2- Handle Poor Relationships with Care

If you had a personality conflict with a key player at your workplace, or you have been terminated, make every effort to rebuild your bridges. Since a background check is likely to be done, do whatever you can to repair your relationship with individuals who may be contacted about you. Also, do what you can to obtain a favourable letter of recommendation from your employer.

If you are sure that you will receive a less than stellar reference from an employer, you are best to prepare your interviewer. When you are asked for references, provide your professional endorsement portfolio first. Then, offer an honest explanation of the situation with your previous employer.

Do not underestimate the power of your references. If you have any concerns with a contact, it is best to leave him or her off your reference list.

3- Prime Your References

Once your contact has agreed to become your reference, schedule a short meeting with him or her. At the meeting, provide your reference with a current copy of your résumé. Remind your reference about the time and length of your relationship, your job titles, and any key experiences you shared. Go over accomplishments, projects, promotions, and other aspects of your background which your reference should be aware of. Identify the sticky questions that your reference is likely to be asked and work together to agree on the best responses. Before the end of this meeting, be sure to collect accurate contact details from your reference.

4- Obtain a Letter of Recommendation

During your discussions with your reference, request a formal letter of recommendation for your endorsement portfolio. Whenever possible, you should write your own letters of recommendation on behalf of your references. In most cases, they will gladly allow you to do this, since it will save them time and effort.

Each letter of recommendation should show your exceptional value. Connect the wording in each letter to your résumé. Focus on specific accomplishments and skills that can be supported by your reference's unique perspective. Your reference letter should be one page in length. Finally, ask your reference to review and modify the letter, print it on company letterhead, and sign the finished original.

If you are writing multiple letters for your various references, give each letter you write a different look and feel. Match the letter's tone and style to that of your reference. Each letter should be a powerful sales tool that promotes you to your potential employer.

5- Create an Endorsement Portfolio

A strong endorsement portfolio consists of approximately six reference letters. If you are uncomfortable or unable to write six distinct, creative letters of recommendation, consider hiring a professional résumé writer to create your endorsement portfolio.

Try to update your portfolio as you progress in your career. The more current your letters are, the more credible they will be. For added professionalism, create a table of contents in the format of a reference list, complete with contact information. Create multiple copies of your endorsement portfolio in a businesslike folder. Your professional endorsement portfolio will be a fantastic meeting handout.

It is important to show your references respect at all times. During your job search, keep them informed about your progress. Use your references only when absolutely required and alert your reference, when you are giving his or her name out. Always follow up with a thank-you. Finally, when you obtain your dream job, send your reference a sincere thank-you note or card for being an integral part in helping you to achieve your career goals!


Sharon Graham is a certified professional résumé writer, employment interview strategist, and author of Best Canadian Résumés. She assists job seekers though her consulting firm Graham Management Group, and is executive director of Career Professionals of Canada. You can reach Sharon by e-mailing


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