References Available Upon Request
by Deeba Rehman, Senior Assistant INALJ Mississippi
Have you seen that line at the end of a resume “References available upon request”? There are a lot of negative implications with that line – you are trying to fill up space to make up for lack of experience, you didn’t take time to customize a template, or you haven’t carefully read the submission instructions. Almost every employer will ask for some type of reference, it just varies for how they want the information. The important question is, do you have any references?
Even if you aren’t actively job-hunting, you never know when an opportunity will present itself. To avoid stressing yourself out, you should have a list of people who you can use as references.
Building a reference list
Aim for 3-5 people who can vouch for you, preferably in an academic and/or professional setting. A variety of people will allow you to be selective when listing references. It doesn’t hurt to have a personal reference, but in the real world you need people who can attest to your abilities, not just say you’re a great person. Remember to network.
Make sure all information is correct. Spell names correctly, use proper titles and preferred methods of contacts. Some people do not like to share personal email or phone numbers, while others may prefer not to be contacted at their place of work. Be certain whichever contact methods you use are ones your reference can access and prefers to use.
Make backup copies. Keep a digital copy, keep a paper copy, keep a file of business cards – it doesn’t matter, just be organized and backup your information carefully in case you lose the original. Also, you will need to update it occasionally, so prepare accordingly.
If you are interested in listing someone as a reference make sure you ask first to confirm that he or she is both able and willing to provide a good reference. A safe way to ask someone is if they can be a good reference for you because it allows them the option to refuse and filters out people who may not have great things to say about you.
Keep in touch with your contacts especially if you don’t see them on a regular basis. This may be a call, an email, an outing, or even a message on social media as a last resort. Just take a moment to let them know what you are up to, find out how things are going with them, and check contact information. Reconnecting lets them share advice or a lead and it let’s you reevaluate if a person is a useful asset to your career aspirations. You don’t have to share every detail of your life, but a reference should be able to provide current/relevant information about you if contacted by a potential employer.
If you list someone as a reference, let him or her know immediately so they aren’t caught off guard. When someone tells me they’ve listed me as a reference, I appreciate it when they share why they are interested in the position or company because I am able to personalize my response when contacted by a potential employer. If you get they job, make sure you thank your references.
Take time to evaluate your references. How do they know you? How can they help your career? It is important to distinguish between people who are great sources of information – for advice, for networking, for leads – versus those who can attest to your skills and abilities. Understand the differences in references, and sort them according to their strengths and your career goals.
If you are asked to be a reference, make sure you have the appropriate information. Get details. Ask relevant questions. Make notes about what the person is looking for and positions he or she is applying to. I also file a copy of individual reference letters I write, both a paper and digital copy. Also, I make note if an employer contacts me in case I need to follow up with the person I referred.
Applying to a job is easier if you have all your information ready. Take the time to gather everything ahead and be prepared for new opportunities. Always take a few extra minutes to review your information to make sure nothing is contradictory or inaccurate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for clarification.
In the end, the more effort put into gathering strong references reflects positively on you.