#60Day Challenge, Day 27: Choose Your References

#60Day Day 27 of 60 Choose ReferencesThroughout the #60Day Challenge, you have been setting yourself up to create a great first impression. Your new profile pic, the new LinkedIn headline and Twitter bio, the new business cards and the accurate assessment and articulation of your existing skills, and so much more – all designed to make you look good. Today, we look way ahead to when that positive first impression really pays off: when a potential employer asks you for references…

At this point in the challenge, the need for personal and professional references may seem a long way off. You might be thinking: “HELLO! We haven’t even talked about resumes, cover letters or job interviews yet. Why are we talking about references???”

But here’s the deal…

References, for many reasons, take some planning and foresight. And those who don’t take the time to refresh their relationships with those they would like to list as a reference are prone to a little self-butt-kicking when things don’t go right at the worst possible time. After all, when does an employer ask for those references? That’s right: when all your hard work has paid off and you are about to receive a job offer.

THAT is a terrible time to scramble around trying to find a former manager you haven’t spoken with in two years. So today, you are going to put some thought into which three to five mentors, managers and contacts are going to serve as your references when you hear those magic words:

“We’ll need three personal references…”

Now for some of you – those who started the #60Day Challenge way back on Days 1 and 2 when you reconnected with old contacts and stalked new mentors, this may be easy… and Day 27 will be a short day indeed. You already have the contact info and have communicated with those who might serve you well as a reference, right?

For everyone else, time to get busy: Where are those former managers and mentors? How can you best reach out to them? Since you spoke with them last, how can you best describe your progress and the goals for the current job search? Playing catch-up now won’t be easy… but better to do it right now than give the answer no employer wants to hear when he asks for those references:

“You need THREE? Does my mother count?”

Once you decide on which three to five people you’ll select as your references – and have them up to speed on your short-term career goals, don’t stop there. Ask yourself some important questions:

  • A month from now, when the #60Day Challenge is over and your job search really begins, will they be available to provide a reference? (It’s a bad, bad sign if one of your references is unreachable or doesn’t return an employer’s phone call)
  • Is this person someone who has supervised your work, or can vouch for your work ethic from first-hand knowledge? (The last thing you want is to have a reference say, “Well, I never actually worked with her, but she seems nice enough”)
  • Will this potential reference actually give you a good reference? Or do they harbor some bad feelings or have any reservations about serving as your champion? (The reference kiss of death: “He worked hard and all… but there is one thing that always bothered me…”)
  • Is this person a real professional? Are they sincere and believable? Would your mother want to talk to them at church? (Sometimes the people who know us best are not the best at providing references… and, no matter how they feel about you, make you look bad by coming across as less than professional.)
  • Do I have all their contact information correct, including title, email, phone, and LinkedIn URL? (Giving a recruiter a bad email address or a disconnected phone number… or even not knowing their current title… not good!)
  • Do I have permission to list them as a reference? (Not even your biggest champions like this kind of a surprise)

Finally, when choosing your references, keep this advice from recruiter Scott Keenan in mind: “What you’re really looking for when you choose your references is someone who gave you honest feedback while you worked for them, and who saw you improve and can enthusiastically sell your skills. A non-passionate, uncommitted reference might ruin your chances of getting hired.”

Choose carefully. Communicate your goals. Measure their ability to articulate and champion you. Make sure they are willing to serve. Shoot them your LinkedIn URL and ask for input and advice.

And start doing all this today… because starting just 33 days from now, these people may be the only thing standing between you – and a job offer.

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