How-To Guide for Identifying + Preparing Job References

The employment waters for creative professionals can be choppy. In order to surge ahead of the competition, you need more than just experience, a polished resume and a stellar digital portfolio: You also need outstanding job references. Finding the right people to vouch for your work history, expertise and interpersonal skills is an art unto itself.

Read on for tips on how to pick the best job references and prepare them for calls from prospective employers.

How to Select Your References

Naturally, your job references should be people who have a slew of great things to say about you, your creative brilliance and your stellar work ethic. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you go down the list of potential job references:

job references

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Are they discreet? You don’t want to lose your current job because word gets out that you’re on the hunt. Unless your search is out in the open, be mindful of whether the individuals you’re approaching would blow your cover. The creative industry has a surprisingly active grapevine, so you’ll want to consider the sanctity of your search when asking people to serve as references.

How familiar are they with you and your work? You want to pick people who are more than just casual acquaintances. Some job seekers are tempted to list colleagues with flashy titles whom they’ve never worked closely with. The last thing you want are job references who tell the hiring manager they don’t really know you that well or can’t recall much about your work.

Have you actually asked them to serve as job references? Don’t risk irking your connections with a job reference phone call from out of the blue. Always take the time to ask for permission to give out their name and contact information. In a phone call or email, you can say something like, “I’m applying for a job as ____ at Company Z, and they’ve asked for the names of three job references. As someone who is familiar with my work, may I list your name, phone number and email?”

Have you gauged their level of enthusiasm? After you asked, how did they react: excited or hesitant? If they sound genuinely interested and happy to vouch for you, you can rest assured they will give you a good reference. But if you sense reluctance, you should still thank them for their willingness but perhaps leave their name off the job references list.

How to Prepare Job References

Once three to six people have enthusiastically agreed to serve as your job references and you’ve reached a point in the interviewing process where the hiring manager intends to call them, it’s time to get them up to speed. Send an email that includes:

  • The name of the person who may be contacting them and, if possible, a time frame and by which means they can expect to be contacted.
  • The details of the position you’re applying for, including the job title, company name and main responsibilities. It may be helpful to provide them with a link to the job posting.
  • Any specific projects, campaigns or assignments you’ve highlighted in your cover letter or portfolio.

Stay in Touch

Keep your job references informed of the outcome of your search. Send them a note, whether you get the job or not, thanking them for the time and effort they expended on your behalf. A little goodwill goes a long way. Chances are your next job will not be your last. That’s a very good reason, besides proper business etiquette, to follow up and stay in touch.

As a job candidate in the competitive creative field, you need all the advantages you can get. Take the time to thoughtfully select, approach and prepare your job references, and you’ll be one step closer to the job you’re targeting.

job referencesWant more stellar career advice? HOW Design University offers courses courses to help you take your career to the next level. Want help with the business side of design? Check out Creative Strategy & the Business of Design from HOW U.