Before a Career Move, Check Your References

Mar 15, 2002

CIO Update Staff

Dear Dave:
I'm preparing a list of references to have ready when an employer asks for them.

I want to include a former boss and a very senior industry leader. I've enjoyed a good business relationship with both of these people but I'm not sure what they would say about me. Their names and titles would be outstanding on my list of references but the truth is they're very egocentric and I worry that they might not have my best interest in mind.

Any advice would be great. Thanks much.

Dan S.

Dear Dan:
The last thing you need when an employer asks for references is a lack of confidence. Usually at this stage of the process you have made it over most of the hurdles and an offer is at hand. For this reason, if you have any doubts, it's a good idea to test your references in advance to determine what they will say to a potential employer.

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Once you've developed a list of potential references, you want to get their permission well in advance and talk with them about what they might have to say about your background and experience. A great technique used by many of our members is to follow-up this conversation with a personal letter that thanks each reference for their assistance and reminds them of the accomplishments that highlighted your relationship.

If you're still concerned after speaking with the reference but have decided to trade off name dropping for trust, then you might want to consider having a friend call them to request a reference. Prepare a series of questions in advance and be sure that your friend takes detailed notes to provide you with good feedback on their responses. This exercise will help you determine whether or not a reference has your best interest in mind.

There are also a number of Internet based services who, for a fee, will carry out a reference check if you don't feel comfortable asking a friend. Keep in mind that these firms are not regulated, so it's a good idea to do some reference checking on them before paying for their services.

As your search progresses, it's important to periodically touch base with each reference to engage them in your networking and keep them informed of your activities. Ideally, they should feel as if they are on your team in helping you land your next job, and if you have selected your references carefully, they will be.

I hope this helps!


Dave Opton is CEO and Founder of ExecuNet, an online career services center for executives. For more information on executive career management visit Questions can be sent to Dave at, he can't answer each individually but look for yours in an upcoming column.


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