On one hand, the death of the traditional IT job reference is good for today’s contractors and IT job seekers. It makes carrying around a list of former colleagues and managers obsolete. It’s one less thing to think about, one less document to prepare. On the other hand, it’s a tough reminder of how hard it can be for IT job seekers to distinguish themselves, influence the IT job search process and grab the attention of potential employers. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I have been handed a list of job references from a candidate, but I can tell you what I would do with it. Not much. Recruiters and hiring managers understand that no one wants to be on the wrong side of a slander suit ─ making an objective, open candidate analysis in a reference check call highly unlikely. For that reason, the candidate’s provided professional reference lists are seen as little more than contacts for employment verification.
When and Where References Count
While post interview professional references are nearing extinction, quite a bit is happening before interviews begin. The fact is all of today’s extraordinary digital networking and research engines—from search engines to social media—have made references to a pre-interview (and sometimes even pre-resume and pre-application) endeavor for many hiring managers and recruiters. Before they even call you for an interview or dive deep into your resume, many hiring managers have been reference checking you via social media and their own networks. For IT professionals, employed or searching, the lesson is simple: build and maintain a strong professional network so it’s always working for you.
Here are three ways to do it:
1. Cultivate Key Contacts at each IT Job/On Each Project
At every IT job and workplace, you will meet managers and professionals who can influence your career somewhere down the road. Work to develop professional contacts on the job remembering that in the age of social media you never know who could be a reference. Ensure that your managers are aware of the work you do and the skills you have. When a project, assignment or job is over, maintain contact with key influencers by working them into your professional networks. For example, invite them to join your LinkedIn network or a particular LinkedIn Group. If they know and remember you as a skilled contributor, you are assuring yourself a good reference should their networks intersect with one of a future employer or hiring manager.
2. Strengthen Your LinkedIn References & Endorsements
If your LinkedIn network is small, it’s time to build it up. Connect with former and existing employers, colleagues and managers on LinkedIn. Get them to join your network and ask those who know your work and capabilities to endorse your IT skills and provide references. Recruiters and hiring managers are spending an increasing amount of time using LinkedIn to research IT talent. Make sure those who find you also find many people with good things to say about you and your work.
3. Ensure the IT Skills on Your Resume & Online Profiles Are 100% Accurate
While traditional reference checks are dead, skills assessments are alive and well. Employers today want to ensure the IT candidates and contractors they hire have the exact skill set and experience they need for their IT job opportunity, which has made IT skills testing and assessments widespread. Every skill you list on your resume and online profiles should be a true skill, not something you’ve merely heard of or dabbled in. The skills that remain should be proudly profiled on LinkedIn where managers and colleagues can supportively endorse them. Good or bad, easier or harder, a new age of reference checking for IT job opportunities are here and it requires a genuinely proactive approach. So get to work. Your professional prospects depend on it.