The Importance of References
Inevitably, when you’re searching for a job you will be asked to provide references. Employers call references for several reasons, including to make sure the things listed on their resume are actually true (i.e., work responsibility, job title, dates of employment), to learn about the circumstances of their leaving the job and to learn what kind of employee they really were. Your job is to make sure that the references you provide don’t sabotage your opportunity for the new job. The bottom line is you must be thoughtful and chose your references carefully.
It is equally important however to realize that many times prospective employers will take it upon themselves to ask references, even if you do not specifically provide them. The legal community is a small enough community that often times employers will know someone at your current or previous firm and will make a casual inquiry on their own. It is another reason it’s important to never burn bridges and always strive hard to work hard, do a good job and leave a good impression.
Step One: Chose wisely. Think about whom you’ve worked with in the past that you’ve had a great experience with, that knows you as a person and that also knows your quality of work. Do not use someone who has only worked with you on few projects, that has given you poor feedback in reviews or that only knows you as a commodity interchangeable with other people they work with. You may ask current or former bosses, law school professors or co-workers to serve as a reference but it’s not a good idea to use someone who is merely a friend or family member.
Step Two: Make the call. Call each person you would like to serve as a reference in advance of providing their name and ask them if they feel comfortable and are interested in serving as your reference. You must ask them if they would speak favorably and in detail about your performance at work. If you don’t clearly ask if their review of your performance would be positive, you may be surprised with what negative things they end up saying. Do not use email to ask someone if they will be your reference. When you ask, if the person sounds uninterested, curt or short, it may be better to find a different reference.
Step Three: Be Appreciative. Your reference is doing you a favor- don’t lose sight of that. Make it easy for them to serve as your reference by being specific about what type of role you are interviewing for and who may be calling them. Thank them for their time and assistance. And update them if you do or don’t get the job so they don’t think they wasted their time.