The Care and Feeding of Business References

by Brian Skory

Business references are not something talked about very often, but when it comes to making a decision on a potential offer to a candidate, I’ve seen references cinch the deal and I’ve seen them kill the deal. Obviously, a set of good references can make all the difference in the world, but it isn’t just bad references that can hurt your candidacy—a lack of references can be just as damaging. So what should we be doing when it comes to the “care and feeding” of our references?

Leave a Career-trail of Positive References

Something you should be thinking about regularly is collecting positive references from each place you have worked. When you are leaving a company, it should be your standard practice to ask several people if they would be a reference for you. Ideally, one of those would be from your direct manager, but lining up 2-4 fellow developers or project managers who simply know your work and can speak well about it will be very beneficial as well.

Keep Track of your References

Nothing is more frustrating than having one of your best references move on in their career and you not knowing where they went. Make sure to connect up with them on LinkedIn, and get their personal email, if possible, so that you have multiple ways of contacting them when the need comes up.

Use Proper Reference Etiquette

Always give your reference a heads-up when they are going to be contacted. It’s only polite to do so , and it also eliminates the risk of providing your prospective employer with incorrect contact information.

When Your Current Company has a No-Reference Policy

Some companies have a firm “no-reference” policy. Even in those cases, all is not necessarily lost. If you’ve collected plenty of references from your previous companies (see point 1 above), then you should still be in good shape. Otherwise, you can reach out to co-workers who have also left that company and would be willing to be a reference for you. As a last resort, you can see if any of your co-workers would write an unofficial “not from the company” reference using their home contact information.
Take proper care of your business references and maximize your chances!
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