A recent article by Georgina Grand published as part of Forbes’ Career Challenge series dug into an undervalued aspect of the job search: securing references. References provide an outside point-of-view of your work, giving you a way to verify that you really are as good as your resume makes you seem. Forbes and Glassdoor agree that your superiors are the best references you can get, followed by colleagues. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but for people looking for their first job out of (or even during) college, it can be a daunting thing to hear, especially when applying for positions which require multiple references.
Trying to gather together references for your first job is a stressful exercise, but Forbes and Glassdoor agree again that professors, academic advisors, and other supervisors (like your NSCS Chapter Advisor) are perfectly acceptable. It may feel silly to list a basketball coach as a reference, but the coach will be able to speak for your work ethic, your ability to work cooperatively in a group, and how you react to adversity and disappointment.
Although specific positions will rarely require you to supply more than two or three references, Forbes recommends keeping a collection of people who are willing to act as a reference for you. That way, once you start to collect more references, you can start selecting the most relevant people to put forward for each job to which you wish to apply. When asking someone to act as a reference for you, it’s best to speak to them in person if not over the phone. Emails and text messages lack the nuance of an actual conversation.
Don’t forget that references are a two-way street. As you build up your group of references, you will be networking as well. This keeps your relationships fresh even with people whom you haven’t worked with in a while. A follow-up phone call followed by a kind note is a good way to show your appreciation for those who vouched for you. You should also expect to be asked to provide references yourself, especially for colleagues.
Building up a good group of references is not as difficult as it is intimidating, but it does require you to maintain good relationships with people after changing positions. If you burn bridges, you will find fewer and fewer opportunities, because the amount of people willing to vouch for you will shrink quickly. Leaving a position in bad circumstances is the worst thing you can do to sabotage your chances of getting a good new position. Relationships are a big part of business, and your references are only an extension of that. If you do not maintain professional relationships, you will see doors closing in front of you. If you can keep in touch and be willing to help when asked, you will see the opportunities start coming to you.