Reference Letters – How To Get Them, Where To Store Them

Meet George BlomgrenGeorge Blomgren has some great thoughts on reference letters (check out the referenced post, on what to do if you don’t have the reference letters (and can’t get them – part of his Tough Questions series)). I’ve seen this topic a lot on blogs, and heard it a lot in network meetings.

When I got “laid off” last year I immediately asked for reference letters from my bosses (three different people). I also asked for reference letters from three “subordinates” (more coworkers, who had gone on to become managers in different companies)… so I felt well-prepared if someone asked me for letters of reference.

But I don’t have any from my past jobs. I may have gotten them… if I did I am sure they are long lost. So here are my tips on preparing yourself for any transition that you may go through:

Start to collect them NOW. Why not? Kim Isaacs at suggests a “kudos file” … I would not be able to effectively manage a big file folder full of stuff but its an excellent idea (hence, the where to store… I’ll get there). The point is, ask your current contacts for letters right now (not everyone, but the ones that make sense). And go back to past employers (or professors, deans, classmates, etc.) and say something like “I’m trying to get some documents in order and was wondering if you would write be a reference letter, for when we worked together a few years ago?” Don Goodman suggests writing your own, and then submitting them to others for ‘approval’ … not a bad idea.

Know what they say. Johannes writes that HR managers have figured out ways to say negative stuff without saying anything negative 😉 Go figure. But you may get letters that are… less than ideal. Know what they say before you pass them along. Perhaps an HR buddy could review them for you to see if they really are positive and helpful.

Write some for others. When I got laid off one of my first tasks was to write reference letters for the guys I worked with. I realized that I had been their boss for a few years and if they had to look for a job (most received the same fate just a week later) it would be really helpful to have a letter from me. But aside from that, writing them helps you understand the mechanics, and how to create them. Here’s a great article on writing one when you don’t want to 🙂

Use them! I’m no expert here, I’d love to know what the experts think, but when I was a hiring manager I really didn’t care for the “references available upon request” line. If you sent me a resume and coverletter (I’d get at least 2 – 3 pages), why not include a little more with references? After all, this is your product testimonial! I would read the references BEFORE I read anything else – I wanted to see if there were rich and meaningful – its always interesting to see what your past boss or coworker says about you. So perhaps send them when you originally submit your application/resume?

Store them somewhere for the long term. I don’t care if you keep them on your computer at home (hope it doesn’t crash). Or on your work computer (duh – when you get terminated they aren’t going to let you pick your favorite files). you can put them all in a file folder (hope your house doesn’t flood or catch on fire). I have one simple recommendation. Get a free account on JibberJobber and store them there. As an added bonus, if you ever send the letters anywhere you can use JibberJobber to track where they go (ie – I’ve sent my main resume to these 42 jobs).

I have two JibberJobber users that shared the value of this with me. One had a flood in her basement and lost all of her hard-copy job stuff (resumes, letters, etc.). But she had them stored in JibberJobber – whew! Another went on a 10-day trip and didn’t realize he’d want his resume handy. Instead of saying “I’ll send it to you when I get back home” he was able to pull it off of JibberJobber and send it that day!

What are you waiting for? Go get some reference letters right now, and then go put them in JibberJobber!

4 thoughts on “Reference Letters – How To Get Them, Where To Store Them”

  1. Jason,

    An alternative to including the reference letters with the resume is to actually incorporate quotes from the reference letters into the resume. The beauty of doing this is that now your resume doesn’t just reflect what you say about yourself…it’s backed up by the comments of others and this can increase a candidate’s credibility exponentially.

    For people who don’t have written references, consider reconnecting with old bosses, co-workers, and vendors through LinkedIn. The testimonial feature is a great way to gather references easily and it’s less awkward than asking for a written reference letter after the formal work relationship has been severed.

  2. Barbara is absolutely correct–those of us who lead the curve in the resume industry have been weaving testimonials into resumes for years.

    When used judiciously, testimonials help brand the resume and deliver a “third party endorsement” that establishes a sense of credibility. The reader trusts that it’s not just the resume’s owner crowing about his accomplishments–they’re actually real and look who loves ’em. In addition, testimonials help create chemistry, and a “looking from the outside-in,” 360-type feedback that shows that those on the “other side of the desk” appreciate this candidate.

    Barbara’s comment about LinkedIn’s testimonial feature is right on target–it’s a great way to gather testimonials. If my client has a stellar branded profile and great endorsements I include his LinkedIn URL on his resume. This way the branded profile gives more life and authenticity to the client-reader relationship, and many testimonials can be seen, not just the few on the resume–and employers don’t have to wait to get ’em.

    As a personal brand strategist as well as a resume pro and coach, I appreciate the role of the testimonial in helping brand my client–in fact during the branding process I routinely ask for an array of quotes so that I can look for strength patterns and cull clues about my client’s brand from this 360-type data.

    Jason, another great post about something that is a clear winner in a job seeker’s and career manager’s tool box.

  3. I actually keep my reference letters right on my blog. I feel that if a potential client or employer likes what they see, it may seal the deal.

    I agree with Barbara, LinkedIn rocks.

    I took quotes a long time ago to create this page when I was applying to a poisition with our newspaper, the Toronto Star. I got the job too.

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