Professional References: Line Them Up Early to Avoid a Job Search Misstep

job seeker frustrated at computer

You’ve made it this far.

Your resume landed you the job interview.

You went through a few interview rounds and dazzled each person with your company knowledge and stories about past work experience.

Finally, you get the call saying, “We’re very interested in you as a candidate. Could you please provide a list of professional references we can contact?”

Oops! You were so busy applying for jobs and preparing for interviews that you forgot to line up your references. Is it the end of the world? No. You could throw something together pretty quickly, but here’s why this step deserves a bit more forethought.

You want your references to be fully informed of your job search and ready to sing your praises when the time comes. They should have a general idea of the type of work you’re looking for and what kind of details would be beneficial to a prospective employer. Failure to tell someone you’re using them as a reference could hinder your job search, especially if the individual responds with, “Hmmm, I don’t remember him/her.” Help your references help YOU by giving them all the relevant information.

Choosing Professional References

Ideally, you want to target people who can give specific examples that highlight you as a prime candidate (sorry, no friends or family!). These can relate to your overall knowledge of the field, your work ethic, your leadership style, your technical aptitude, etc. It’s okay to choose multiple people from the same company, but try to include a variety of job levels/functions. For example, choose a peer, a manager, and a colleague from a different department.

Reach out to each individual at the start of your job search to ask if they are willing to serve as a reference and to confirm their contact information. It can sometimes take a week or more to hear back from people, so don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re scrambling at the last minute. Plus, some companies ask for reference information up front as part of the job application (though they won’t reach out until later in the hiring process). Here’s a sample script you can use…

“Hi Marlon, I hope things are going well for you. I’m currently looking for a new <role> position in the <location> area. Since we worked closely at ABC Company, I was wondering if you’d be open to serving as a reference for me. I think you could provide valuable insight into my background and ability to manage multiple projects with strict deadlines. Let me know if it’s ok to include you on my reference list and please confirm the best email address and phone number. Thanks for your support!”

Conducting a stealth job search? Add a sentence such as, “My current employer doesn’t know I’m looking for a new role, so I appreciate you keeping my search confidential.”

Creating Your Reference List

Here’s how to put all the pieces together to create your reference list:

  • Put your contact information at the top using the same format from your resume
  • Type “References” or “Reference List” below your contact info as a header
  • Aim for 3-5 professional references (no friends/family)
  • On separate lines, add the contact’s full name, current organization, current job title, preferred phone number, and preferred email address
  • It’s also helpful to include a 1 sentence note explaining how/where you worked with each other (ex. “Linda reported to me for three years at X Company”). This is especially beneficial if the person has switched companies or retired since you worked together.
Don’t Forget to Follow-Up

When you get to the final interview round and are told the company will be contacting your references, reach out to each person on your list to give them a heads up. This ensures they’ll be expecting a phone call or can check their junk folder for any lost email correspondence. They can also take a moment to consider talking points related to the skills for this particular new role.

Is your reference list ready to go? For personalized job search support, email [email protected] to set-up an introductory phone call. We can help you create a job search strategy, craft your resume, or prepare for an upcoming interview.

2021 Job Search and Hiring Trends

Man looking at concrete wall with colorful sketches relating to job search and hiring trends

The good news? Companies are hiring again!

The bad news? Things look a bit different right now.

Let’s take a look at 5 job search and hiring trends for 2021. If you’re a job seeker, pay close attention to the tactical tips so you can hit the ground running and land your next role sooner, rather than later.

Job Search & Interview Processes Are Taking Longer

Due to larger applicant pools and companies continuing to redesign the way they work, job seekers should anticipate a search to take 6-12 months.

Virtual interviewing makes it difficult for employers to get a good sense of your personality, so they are extending the process to include more decision makers. You could potentially be asked to complete 3-8 interview rounds.

💡 Tip: Get started now! Even if you aren’t quite ready to hit “submit,” start updating your resume and conducting mock virtual interviews.

A Shift Toward Career Changes and Part-Time Gigs

Professionals are feeling the “pandemic push” – the involuntary (or sometimes voluntary) decision to explore a new career path or consider part-time work. Companies are hiring again, but many are recruiting part-time workers until they are able to bring back full-time hires. If part-time is an option for you, it could be a great way to get your foot in the door at a target company. Meanwhile, some job seekers are using their newfound time to pursue passion projects and ramp up their skill sets.

Another workforce trend? Many Baby Boomers are taking early retirement.

💡 Tip: Update job search criteria to include “remote” and “part-time work”. You never know what you might find!

A+ Career Marketing Materials

Now more than ever it is important to have top-notch job search materials including an optimized resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Comb through job descriptions to find relevant keywords and craft strong resume bullets that contain action verbs and quantitative metrics when possible. These should showcase results rather than simply listing responsibilities.

💡 Tip: Have a friend or family member review your materials for typos or use a free service such as Grammarly. If you’re able, consult with a career coach.

Network, Network, Network!

Referred candidates are 2x more likely to land an interview. Let family/friends know you are searching and conduct informational interviews with people from your industry and/or alma mater.

💡 Tip: Look up virtual career fairs, networking events, and industry education opportunities (many are free!). Connect with organizers and attendees by sending a personalized LinkedIn connection request.

💡 Tip: Engage with your network by liking and commenting on their social media content. Then, begin posting content of your own.

Video Interviewing is Here to Stay!

Employers will continue to use virtual interviews through 2021. They add a layer of pandemic protection, reduce office occupancy numbers, and eliminate candidate travel costs. Be prepared with quiet space, headphones to eliminate interference, and a professional background. Practice pausing before responding to avoid accidental interruptions.

💡 Tip: Practice responses to questions about how you helped your organization pivot during 2020. Consider times you showed leadership, flexibility, and creativity.

💡 Tip: Companies are also increasing questions around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Think of how you foster inclusion/acceptance in the workplace and/or times you’ve worked with a diverse group. This could encompass race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or generational gaps.

Conducting a job search this year? We can help! Whether you need a standout resume/cover letter or assistance preparing for interviews, CM Career Coaching has you covered. Schedule an introductory call to learn more about our services and how we can partner with you to land your next role!

How to Mentally Detangle Yourself from 2020

At the end of every year, we take time to reflect on our accomplishments and maybe set a resolution or two for the year ahead. As 2020 comes to a close, I think it’s safe to say we are all eager to move on and would prefer to skip the reflection altogether.

It was rough. Enough said.

There are a number of news sources and influencers who are encouraging us to find the silver linings in this difficult year, and I don’t disagree. It was challenging, to put it mildly, but in our own ways we each stepped up and showed resilience. We should absolutely celebrate those moments and recognize that just making it to 2021 is an accomplishment!

However, I think the question we should be asking ourselves is, “Now what?” It’s one thing to reflect on 2020’s turbulent ups and downs, but what’s most important is how we move forward.

Tips for Mentally Breaking Up with 2020

I know many of us (myself included) hope the universe will magically reset at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, but sadly we’re going to wake up in the same spot. Now is the time to pick ourselves up, to refine our definition of “normal,” and to choose growth amidst the chaos. Because it truly is a choice. We can choose to shake off this crappy year, or we can choose to stand still and let it pull us under.

Here is your blueprint for getting unstuck and creating a more positive mindset for the year ahead.

Make your bed

Adopting a daily ritual can help you break free from some energy-sucking habits you may have developed in 2020 (no judgment!). In his viral 2014 commencement speech, Admiral William H. Mcraven addressed the graduating class at The University of Texas at Austin. He said, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed…If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Small, consistent steps can lead to a big, powerful mindset shift. Choose a simple, manageable task like making your bed, doing a 5-minute meditation, or going for a walk around the block each morning.

Remind yourself that you’re resilient

After a year like 2020, it can be difficult to sift through the aftermath. Start by thinking big picture. Do you remember your first job or internship? Now compare that to where you are now. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional, I guarantee you’ve accomplished a lot over the years. You have new skills, a broader network, and a slew of lessons learned.

Next, think of the progress you’ve made from the start of the pandemic to now. You’ve adapted to remote work, mastered new technology, and used creativity to redefine your role. Even if you were unemployed, you still undoubtedly faced challenges from March to now. Remind yourself how far you’ve come to give you that boost to move forward.

Find gratitude

It may sound a little out there, but positive thoughts conjure positive energy. Our mindset is often our own worst enemy, but now is the time to redirect negative thoughts. Instead of “I have to log onto another Zoom call,” try “I get to log onto another Zoom call while so many are unemployed.” I’m not suggesting you have to be cheery all the time, but be intentional about seeking out gratitude and it will start to become second nature. Negativity breeds negativity, so you may also want to take a look at any taxing relationships in your life. Lastly, purchase a gratitude journal and make it part of your morning or nightly routine.

Don’t wait for permission

It’s never been more painfully obvious that we aren’t in full control of our lives. We lost a lot this year – loved ones, trips, weddings, holidays, jobs, the chance to have a spouse in the delivery room, etc. I realize we can’t get out there and do everything we want in 2021, but there are plenty of things you can start checking off that bucket list. Don’t hold off on updating your resume because you’re waiting for the perfect job to be posted. Don’t hold off on starting a business because it doesn’t feel like the right time. Get started now on the things that will make you happy – both big and small.

Make a plan

I won’t tell you to make a resolution, but I will tell you to set some good old fashioned goals. Start by giving yourself a little tough love. What’s stopping you or holding you back? What could you be doing better? Self-awareness is the first step toward improvement. From there, think of three things you want to accomplish in the year ahead. Then you can break each of those into smaller, more manageable pieces. And remember, goals are flexible. What you want right now, may be completely different from what you want come summertime. The point is to start working towards something and adjust as needed.

Feeling better already?

Hopefully these tips give you food for thought on how you can reassess your mindset and tackle 2021 with renewed spirit. If you are struggling with mental health, please reach out to your doctor or visit There is absolutely no shame in asking for the help you need to be healthy.

Cheers to 2021!

How the Pandemic Will Show Up in Your Next Job Interview

Here’s one thing I can guarantee about future job interviews – 2020 is going to come up. It’s safe to say this has been a rollercoaster year. We’ve had to change the way we work, live, learn, and the list goes on. It’s a distinctive moment in history and your next boss will have some questions about how you responded.

Potential Interview Questions

Grab a notebook, sit down in a quiet place, and ask yourself the following questions. They are very likely to show up as behavioral interview questions in your next job search. Not only do they inform the interviewer how you reacted, but they also indicate which of your skills kicked into high gear.

  • How did you help your organization pivot, both at the beginning of the pandemic and now?
  • How did you motivate your team/coworkers?
  • Where did you demonstrate creativity?
  • Were you flexible when things changed and then changed again?
  • When did you take initiative? How were you proactive?
  • Describe an “all hands on deck” moment and what was your role?
What if I lost my job?

If you lost your job in 2020, don’t panic! You can still discuss the ways you helped the organization prior to your exit. Resume gaps are inevitable (and understandable!), but you should be ready to discuss what you did/are doing to bounce back. Did you…

  • Learn a language?
  • Start a passion project?
  • Attend virtual conferences/trainings?
  • Volunteer?
  • Pick up new skills while helping your kids adjust to remote learning?
Document This Information While It’s Still Fresh

The way we conduct business has been evolving with each passing week and it’s probably already tricky to remember back to the start of the pandemic. Take the time now to reflect (and write down) how you managed the massive amount of change you, your company, and your industry faced. It will serve you well next time you work on your resume or find yourself in a job interview.

It’s also a nice reminder of what you’ve accomplished this year despite the odds. Let’s face it, we could all use a pat on the back after a year that made our heads spin! If you need help finding your next role or preparing for interviews, please reach out to schedule an introductory call!

5 Tips to Maintain Job Search Momentum Over the Holidays

Most people are tempted to take a job search hiatus over the holidays. If you’ve been searching for a while, you may think it’s time for a break. If you’re just getting started, you may believe the holidays are not the right time. Regardless of your reason, I’d urge you to reconsider. 

Are companies actually hiring right now?

Yes! Many companies are hoping to wrap up their hiring processes before the end of the year. As a result, they are busy reviewing applications and interviewing. It’s also a good idea to get your applications submitted now, so you’re not part of the massive application drop that typically happens in January. As with most things in life, the effort you put in now will manifest itself in the new year.

Maintaining Momentum

Job search fatigue is a real thing and it’s ok to take a break from the application grind. That being said, there are still a lot of ways to keep your job search top of mind and make progress. Here are five things you can do over the holidays to maintain job search momentum. 

1. Tell people about your search

Holiday parties may look different this year, but you can still share your job search news during a Zoom get together! Tell family, friends, and new acquaintances that you’re conducting a job search. Talking about your search has multiple benefits. First, it gives you experience explaining what you’re looking for which is excellent interview practice. Second, it often results in a helpful tip, the name of a company to check out, or at the bare minimum a promise to keep you in mind if they hear of anything.

2. Use the holiday as a conversation starter with key contacts

Now is the perfect time to reach out and wish someone a happy holiday season. If you haven’t already lined up 3-5 professional references, contact former managers and colleagues to fill them in on your search and ask if they’ll serve as a reference for you. If you’re transitioning to a new field, schedule informational interviews (aka virtual coffee) to learn more about your new path.

3. Brush up on technical skills

Find the most common skills required for your position by reading multiple job descriptions. Then, get to work on any gaps! You may know how to use basic Excel, but maybe you could use a tutorial on how to create a pivot table to analyze data. Or, perhaps you used HTML in a former position but need to refresh your memory on certain aspects. It would also be a good time to familiarize yourself with collaboration tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack. Remote work is changing the way colleagues communicate, so it’s important to have a rough idea of what’s out there.

4. Give yourself a LinkedIn check-up

In addition to updating your resume or drafting cover letters, take this time to refresh your LinkedIn profile. Have you been putting off writing the About section or adding your most recent position? Do you have at least 10 relevant skills in your Skills section? If your profile is complete, ask people to write a recommendation or endorse you for skills. I’d also suggest setting up a job alert, looking up alumni in your field, and seeing if any of your connections work for companies you’re applying to.

5. Put your interview skills to the test

Make sure you’re ready for all those interviews you’re going to get in the new year (the power of positive thinking, right?!). It’s important to practice your responses out loud and also be aware of any nonverbal behavior that might be distracting to an interviewer. Since most interviews are virtual these days, scheduling a mock interview with a professional will also help you get comfortable talking into your webcam and get feedback on your lighting/video background.

The Bottom Line

Whatever you do this holiday season, the bottom line is just keep going! If you totally check out for the next month, you’re going to lose steam and it’ll be that much harder to jump back in. Job searches take time and can be frustrating, but consistent effort is sure to pay off in the long run.

Choose a Resume Format that Helps Sell Your Story

Man writing notes in notebook
What comes first, the content or the format?

When writing or updating your resume, you may find yourself stuck in this “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Should I write down all my experience and then start arranging it, or should I choose a format and then plug in my content?

The answer is – it depends! Resumes are not “one size fits all” which is good because you want yours to be a reflection of your personal brand. That doesn’t mean you should go wild with an orange cursive font, but it does mean you should pay attention to how well your skill set aligns with the roles for which you’re applying.

Brainstorm your Content

When working with clients, I recommend starting with a content brainstorm. Write down all of your positions, projects you worked on, measurable results, technology used, etc. Don’t worry about limiting this brainstorm to the requisite 1-2 pages. It’s best to start with a plethora of content and then scale back as needed. Once you have everything down, consider the story it tells.

If you’re looking for a similar role to the one you’re in now, this should be a fairly easy process. However, if you’re changing fields or reentering the workforce, your story might feel choppy or unimpressive.

Luckily, there are different resume formats to choose from to help you clearly convey why you’re a good fit for the position.

Resume Formats
  • Chronological – Arguably the most common format, this organizes work experience in reverse chronological order meaning your most recent role is listed first. This is a good option when you are staying in the same industry or when your work history shows a clear progression of title and/or responsibility.
  • Functional – This format emphasizes your overall competencies rather than listing work experience chronologically. You identify core competency headings such as “Marketing” or “Program Management” and then list relevant accomplishments from across your career underneath. This style works well if you are switching careers or if you’ve had a variety of different roles in different industries.
  • Combined – A little bit of this and a little bit of that! You list experience in reverse chronological order, but also add a few competency headings (typically within your most recent role). This is helpful if you’ve held a position for multiple years and want to call attention to the various “buckets” of work.

In the end, your goal is to create a resume that is easy to read and clearly showcases what you bring to the table as an applicant. Whenever possible, find organic ways to incorporate keywords from the job description. Recruiters should be able to quickly find the information they’re looking for so they can fast track you to the interview process.

Not sure how to proceed?

The resume writing process can be daunting, but there’s no reason to have that delay (or hinder) your search efforts. If you’d like another set of eyes on your resume or need help writing one from scratch, let’s work together!