The Power of Qualified References in Executive Job Search

by Meg Guiseppi on September 23, 2013

How to select, qualify and prepare references to reinforce your personal brand and confirm the value you offer your target employers.

You’ve gone through a round or two of job interviews with a target employer, and you’ve done extremely well.

Now they’re asking for references. Congratulations!

Checking references takes time and costs money. Only the best candidates will be worth it. They must be pretty serious about you.

They wouldn’t ask for references if they weren’t strongly considering making you an offer.

Are you ready to send them a list of several people to verify your strengths, character, qualifications and good-fit for their needs?

Weak or in any way negative references can kill your chances of being made an offer, and turn around that employer’s previous glowing impression of you.

Hopefully, you haven’t waited until now to compile your list of references, because you’ll need time to pull together a potent group of people who are best qualified to reinforce your personal brand and confirm the value you offer your target employers.

Identify good possible candidates for your reference list

  • Co-workers at current and recent previous companies, at all levels – your peers, those below you and those above you.
  • Members of your employers’ Boards of Directors, if you’re at the c-level.
  • Vendors of your employer you’ve worked closely with.
  • Customers of your employer you’ve worked closely with.
  • Thought leaders and subject matter experts in your industry or area of expertise, that know you and your work.

Build and qualify your reference list

  • Select 8-10 people (or more) from your list above with whom you’ve worked for a good amount of time, and you know will give you a strong recommendation.
  • Contact each one to be sure they’re okay with being on your list.
  • Inform them of what kinds of jobs you’re seeking.
  • Tell them what kinds of skills, strengths, qualities and qualifications your target employers are looking for in candidates like you.
  • Prepare them for a call by sending them your targeted resume and other career materials (biography, LinkedIn profile, etc.) for background information.
  • To help them rave about you, provide anecdotes and specific accomplishments of yours that will impress employers and reinforce your personal brand.
  • Prep them on how to deal with salary questions. Make sure they know how you have addressed this with the employer, so both of your answers are aligned.
  • Prep them to deal with questions about your weaknesses, to be consistent with how you’ve already addressed this in the interview process.

Think twice before including friends on your list. Your references should have some professional connection to you, and be able to provide meaningful information about your work performance. A weak reference can turn the tables against you.

In a recent article on, executive recruiter Jeff Lipschultz said it’s important to choose the right references for the right situation:

“You might want different references depending on the job you have applied for.

Different references may have different levels of credibility and authority in different industries, professions, or, even, in different locations, so carefully selecting the references for a specific employer or situation may increase the probability of landing that job.”

He suggests rotating references if you’re asked for your list often, to avoid overburdening them with too many calls.

Jeff also makes an important point about LinkedIn recommendations:

“For references or endorsements on LinkedIn, keep in mind that those people may be asked questions about you without notifying you first or asking your permission. Make sure to remind the references when you’re on a job hunt in case they are contacted (those giving endorsements might be too much to manage).”

After qualifying people and tightening your list, you should be ready to create a “List of References” career document. Include each person’s name, title, company, location, email address and phone number, and a brief explanation of your professional relationship to them.

Taking it a little further, I advise my c-suite clients to have a “Reference Dossier and Accolades” document, which includes a brief, impactful quote from each person, supporting the job-seeker’s brand and value proposition.

As you move through job search, contact each of your references in advance, when you know they’re about to get a call from an employer, so they’ll have time to prepare and review your materials.

Reaching out to your list of references not only helps them know how to position you as a good-fit candidate for the jobs you’re seeking.

The contact also helps you stay top-of-mind with them. And it gives you the opportunity to remind them that you’re still job-hunting, and possibly gain a lead or two from them. That’s just good networking!

Don’t forget to send a thank you note (a handwritten, snail-mailed note is best) to every one of the people you’ve contacted to be on your list.

Update them on your job search progress along the way, and let them know how much their input and involvement have helped. Get in touch again to thank them each time you know they’ve been contacted.

Related posts:

Executive Job Search: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

7 Things Successful Executive Job Seekers Know

5 Mistakes That Can Derail Your Confidential Executive Job Search


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