One of the most important marketing tools we should always be developing to help reinforce our brand is our references. Just like many companies use their client list and client references to build credibility and confidence for their products and services, we should also leverage our references to build credibility and confidence in our capabilities and brand. Sometimes reference checks are just a formality, but in most cases potential employers (i.e., potential clients) use reference checks as their final validation that they're making the right decision. Having someone else you have done work for speak highly of you and of the quality of your work is a great closing tool.
While reference checks typically come towards the end of the hiring process they can also be used very effectively up front in the process as a marketing device to set an early positive framework of your capabilities. Whenever it is possible get written references on company letterhead from your managers and key stakeholders or customers. Make sure they are rave reviews (discussed later in this post) and reinforce the key branding and messaging points you're selling. In some cases you may be able to write a draft of the reference that your manager can modify, or you can ask them to specifically include certain positive attributes that line up with your brand messaging. Written references are important because you will want to include them with your job resume and in your student portfolio. Talk up your references during the interview process. It's a powerful selling technique when you bring up that you have very strong references and speak to specifics. Encourage the employer to talk to your references.
Make a point to keep in regular touch with your past and current references so that you can provide accurate and up-to-date email and phone number contact information. Whenever possible, try to use a direct office number or better yet, a cell phone number, or both. Use this contact information to give your references a heads-up whenever you are going to use them as a reference (and to verify the contact information is correct). If possible, give your references some background information on the position and use the opportunity to reinforce your brand promise so the reference can echo those points if they are contacted.
Bring your reference letters with you. Also, in addition to having your references in your LinkedIn profile, also include your reference letters in your on-line ePortfolio or Profile Layouts. There are several eportfolio and Web Portfolio internet sites available. One of the best ones out there is Apojigo at http://www.apojigo.com. Apojigo has a very easy to use tab based interface that lets you create an online eportfolio that can contain any multimedia material you want to present. You can include your resume, write a biography and samples of your work. E-Portfolio and online portfolios are a great resource to give potential employers. Web Portfolios allow you to include additional supporting information along with your references.