The job market is in a period of transition. Headlines highlight hiring freezes, firsthand accounts of furloughs appear on social media, and the stresses of being short-staffed are hindering several industries. This general uncertainty should not necessarily cause panic, but it can inspire reflection about how you are positioning yourself to find new employment. Polishing up your resume or perfecting your Linkedin profile using these BAUCE-approved tips are the first steps to a potential career change. But as you progress in an interview process, hiring firms may want to hear from your past colleagues. Having a team of people who can vouch for you, both personally and professionally, is a vital component of career success. The best references come from real relationships rather than infrequent interactions. Publications such as the Harvard Business Review have released templates that describe how to ask someone for such a favor. However, cultivating professional relationships is not as straightforward. Don’t worry – BAUCE is here to help. As you refine your roster of references, it’s important to have the following options:
A Senior Sponsor
A recommendation from a boss, mentor, or sponsor can make or break a hiring decision. Ideally, this professional contact will have collaborated with or coached you through a major project. As such, this reference should be able to discuss your capacity for learning, your tendencies in a team dynamic, how well you communicate, and why you are a valuable member of a workplace. In addition to a history of collaboration, you should ensure that you have a camaraderie with this person as well. Anyone can discuss your ability to deliver an effective presentation or praise your analytical talents. However, a high-quality reference stems from admiration, mutual respect, and genuine investment in your future success. Even after you leave a job, schedule interim check-ins with the person in your life who fits this description. Write an email a few times a year to highlight career developments and add any relevant personal details. Dr Ann Amuta, who provides career advice in her spare time, has created an overview of how to request a reference from a boss or senior member of your team.
A Proud Peer
Certain employers may want to see a professional peer reference. This request seeks to understand how you interact with people who share your same level of seniority. Peer references do not necessarily have to be your age, but they should share a similar level of responsibility. Leveraging this perspective, the peer reference adds valuable insight into the workstreams, projects, and processes with which you worked. Peer references are especially important if you are leaving due to a toxic or unsupportive manager. In such instances, this person can discuss how the work environment hinders success and they can corroborate any anecdotes you have about difficult colleagues. Make sure that your peer reference can speak to your personal qualities and professionalism. This is the type of reference with whom you should grab a coffee or have a walking catch-up on a regular basis.
An Academic Advocate
References are also key for graduate school applications. Higher learning institutions typically require a letter of endorsement from a person who knows your academic background. Your capacity to research, complete analytical exercises, write papers, adhere to deadlines and complete complex projects should all be evident from this reference. If possible, request a reference from a professor or teaching assistant who has seen you function in a small group setting. Staying in touch with professors can be challenging as they teach new cohorts of classes each year. Read their new publications, send them interesting articles from their areas of research, and reach out if you are ever visiting your alma mater.
A Flattering Friend
This one is slightly different from a peer reference. A personal reference will portray how you conduct yourself in situations outside of work. This person should know you well and be able to explain the various facets of your personality. Your natural tendencies to be organized, composed, thoughtful, intentional, and open-minded can shine through when a friend is recommending you for a professional opportunity.
It can be stressful when a potential employer asks for a reference on short notice. An array of options can present themselves as you try to decide who would be best for this favor. Save yourself some future stress and have your reference list ready to go.