The one thing that everyone needs, few ask for, and even fewer have

by Sterling J. Scott, Marketing Communications Coordinator, MHI | @mhi_sterling

So you finally made it! You’ve graduated from high school. You’ve graduated from college. You’ve left your part-time job for your first full-time one. You’ve switched companies. Whatever you did, you’re excited about it and you should be. It’s the next chapter in your life. A place you’ve worked hard for and earned. You’re so excited to move on. So excited that, perhaps, you forgot one very important thing. Between the goodbyes to your colleagues and co-workers and your introductions to the new ones, you’ve managed to exchange contact information and connect on LinkedIn, but you forgot one, small thing: references.

Throughout your education and career, prospective schools and employers are going to ask you for references; and the only thing worse than them asking for reference is when they ask for reference letters. It puts you in a tough spot, because if you haven’t asked already, then you have to either find people familiar with your work with whom you’ve kept in touch or you have to get in touch with people familiar with your work.

It’s nice to have these contacts in mind in advance AND have their approval for listing them as a reference. Before you transition between schools, jobs, or both and even after, it is good practice to ask permission of your colleagues and co-workers to list some as references. Building a good reference list is something that takes time and is easier to do if you build it over time than if you try to do it quickly. Once you start building your reference list, it’s always good to keep in touch. First, because you want to continue to maintain that relationship, which will improve the quality of your references. Second, because they will let you know if their work or contact information changes. Third, because it’s easier to request reference letters when you have a good list of references.

If you haven’t already, reach out to some good friends that have known you for at least a few years and reach out to former colleagues and co-workers. Catch up. Start communicating with them regularly, even if it’s just checking in. If you build and maintain these relationships, it will be easier for you to ask them to be references. It will also help you build a list of quality references.