Are you getting the most you can from your recommendations? Follows these three tips to make sure your references are accurately conveying the skills you can bring to a new job.

Share story

Last year, a former colleague left his job and asked me and my boss if we could be used as a reference to find a new position. My boss and I were both happy to help this job seeker out and awaited a call from the recruiter.

What we got instead was a bit of a surprise — an online form to fill out, asking about the dates we worked with the candidate, some of the character traits he possessed, his working style, his technical skills, his weaknesses, etc. It contained all the usual questions one would expect to find in a recommendation, but it felt somewhat detached.

While I filled out my form, my boss went one step further and called up the recruiter directly. Being a major fan of our mutual friend’s work, my boss said he wanted to reach out personally to let this recruiter know that the job seeker was more than just competent, he often went above and beyond what was required and was preternaturally dedicated to producing the best possible work. A few weeks later, we discovered that the tactic worked — our colleague had received several job offers through the recruiter and is now gainfully employed again.

While not all recommendations must come from a direct meeting or a phone call, this example does point out the need for some kind of unique connection to be made between hiring managers and references. Here are a few ways to ensure that the references you give will leave a strong impression.

Describe job details to your references. Rather than just warn your references that someone will be contacting them in the near future, have a conversation about what the new position entails. Describe to the reference what the job requirements are and go over any other differences between the old job and this new one. This way, the reference can find some common skill sets required in both positions and can explain how these skills will be needed in the new job.

Find a supervisor. Whenever possible, find someone who supervised your output while you worked together. That’s the best way to give the recommendation the legitimacy it needs to impress a recruiter or hiring manager. If no former supervisor is available, find someone who worked alongside you and can give an honest assessment of how you handled the everyday workload and beat goals.

Make letters specific. If you can only get a printed or digital letter of recommendation, ask the reference to be as specific as possible and to use a few anecdotes describing how you demonstrated leadership skills at your old job. Without a conversation, the letter should be able to show the hiring manager that you would be the ideal match for the position, and it’s hard to do that with general platitudes, such as “hardworking” and “diligent.” Be sure the letter paints a picture that sums up your value.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at