Great References Must Be Cultivated

by Bob Roth
The “College & Career Success” Coach

There is an important aspect of the senior year job search that most college students fail to appreciate, undervalue and sometimes ignore. Many students don’t seem to understand that the best employers place a great deal of weight on good references. These employers won’t hire someone who can’t provide them with a list of people who are willing to serve as positive and enthusiastic references.

The best references are respected and influential people who know the student well. That means that the student has taken the time to cultivate a strong relationship with them over a period of time. Keep in mind that some employers prefer to talk with a wide a range of references, to get a broader picture. Potential references can include:

- Past Employers
- College Professors and Advisors
- Influential and Well-Known Students
- Respected College Alumni
- Technical Experts in your field
- Business Executives
- Community Leaders
- Friends and Relatives

What is it that employers want to learn about you? Employers will ask questions like these:

- Would your reference be willing to hire you him/herself? Why?
- What are your most significant accomplishments?
- What is your operating style and work ethic?
- What leadership roles have you performed?
- How good are your communication skills?
- What is your work attitude and personality?
- Do others enjoy working with you?
- What are your capabilities, strengths and natural talents?
- What are your weaknesses and faults?
- What is the worst mistake you ever made?
- Will you give them a 110% effort?
- Why should they hire you?
- Do you have any job-related experience?
- What have they heard others say about you?
- Are you someone who can get things done?
- How do they rate your potential?
- Are you a team player?
- Can they provide examples of your creativity?
- Who has benefitted from your accomplishments?
- What is your reputation on campus, at work and in the community?
- How would your references describe your character?

Students should take a look at these questions as soon as they enter college, so they can get started accumulating the experiences and accomplishments that their references will eventually talk about.

Employers also want references to:

- Confirm all factual information about you
- Talk about their personal experiences with you
- Provide insight into your personality and attitude
- Offer their honest opinions of you and your capabilities

What do you want your references to do?

- Speak highly of you
- Be enthusiastic
- Utilize superlatives to describe you, your performance and your successes
- Tout your knowledge and technical expertise
- Make it clear that you have great potential
- Speak well of your work ethic and character

Therefore, you should consider doing the following:

- Tell your references what you would like them to mention
- Provide your references with a list of your successes and/or a script

To obtain the results you want, you must invest enough time to cultivate a solid relationship with the people you have chosen to serve as references. The most respected Professors, Employers, Technical Experts and Business Executives will not provide a glowing recommendation for a student they don’t know very well. That’s because your references understand that their reputations go along with those recommendations. They are not willing to take a chance on hurting their reputations for an unknown student or a casual acquaintance.

It takes time to build a good relationship with your references. You do it by:

- Spending time with potential references
- Talking with them
- Working with those references
- Showing interest in their work
- Asking them questions
- Helping them, when you can
- Looking out for their best interests
- Warning them of problems
- Showing them what you can do
- Making them look good to others
- Speaking highly of them

Only when your references trust you and believe in you will they put their reputations on the line for you. That’s why great references must be cultivated slowly, over time.

Visit Bob’s web site: Bob Roth is the author of three books: College Success, Advice For Parents Of High School And College Students 2/10, The 4 Realities Of Success During and After College -and- The College Student’s Guide To Landing A Great Job. Follow his blog at:

Author's Bio: 

Bob Roth, a former campus recruiter, is the author of three books: College Success, Advice For Parents Of High School And College Students 2/10, The College Student's Guide To Landing A Great Job -and- The 4 Realities Of Success During and After College. Known as The "College & Career Success” Coach, Bob also writes articles for more than 225 College Career Services Offices, Campus Newspapers, Parent Associations and Employment Web Sites. Additionally, Bob has developed 20 Self-Scoring Learning Tools that help college students find success. He has been interviewed on numerous radio programs across the country and also by many newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal. Lastly, Bob has served as an Adjunct at Marist College, teaching a course in Career Development. Bob’s Blog-