Getting the most out of your references

October 28, 2009 at 10:40 am Leave a comment

Another big issue in the job-hunt world is references: when to offer them, how many to list and who to list — especially for veteran journalists who have a lot of choices.

Here are some tips gleaned from recruiters and from my own experience:

*Don’t list references on your resume, unless you are a relative newbie and can afford the space. You want to use precious real estate on your resume to showcase your qualifications and experience. It’s best to put references on a separate page. Experts are split on whether you should include a reference sheet with your resume or wait until you are asked to provide references. If you are pretty new to the profession but have some good references (or some well-known references, perhaps as an adviser at your college or on an internship) it might be a good selling point to offer the reference sheet right away. For others, it’s probably best to wait until after an interview when you’re pretty far along in the process. Experts say that three professional and three personal references are a good idea — in journalism, I would stick with professional references and think you can go up to six and maybe even eight for veterans. List them in the order you would like them to be called.

*What to list? For professional references, include their name, job title, company, phone number and email address. Don’t forget the phone number — recently I had several young journalists list just email addresses and I like to talk to references by phone, so I had to hunt for phone numbers. (It’s never smart to make recruiters or hiring managers do extra work.) It’s also good to list your relationship to them, especially if that may not be immediately clear. For instance, so-and-so supervised me when we both worked at such-and-such newspaper.

*Who are the best references? You want professional references who can speak knowledgeably about your work and can provide details. If you didn’t work with the person long enough or if they are unlikely to provide specific details about your experience, work style and professionalism, they probably aren’t a good reference — even if they might be a catchy name.

*Contact the references before listing them. Too many people make this mistake and hiring managers can usually spot a surprised reference. It’s akin to a defense lawyer putting an unprepared witness on the stand — the jury can smell it! First, make sure they would be comfortable being a professional reference for you — not everyone is willing to do so and it’s best to know that before you list them. Also, it’s good to let the reference know what organization(s) may be contacting them and for what kind of work. If you can, “rehearse” the kind of things they would be telling the news organization about you and the time you worked together. Ask them to drop you a quick email if they are contacted — that’s important information about the progress of your search, as reference checks are often one of the last things that hiring managers do before making an offer. And always thank references before and after!

*Know your references well. This is especially important for those relatively new to the profession, who may not have as many references to list. This is why it’s good to talk to them before, and find out specifically what they’re likely to say. If you at all suspect they may be a so-so reference or may say some negative things as well as some positive, strike them from your list. Also, good hiring managers in journalism are smart about asking lots of detailed questions — if you think they wouldn’t stand up to this kind of questioning, they may not be a good reference.

*A tip for managers: Among your references, include some people you supervised (reporters, more junior editors, producers). A reference from them about your skills as a manager and how they grew as a journalist with your guidance can be a  powerful recommendation. Again, be careful who you list and discuss clearly with them what they would say. For others, a colleague reference or two — especially if the colleague has moved on to an influential position inside or outside the profession — may also be a good idea to include on your list.

*Several job leads to consider — today for business-focused journalists willing to relocate to New York. These look like  great jobs,  just not in D.C.:
Online Producer
Location: New York, the business news web site for CNN, Fortune Magazine, and Money Magazine, is looking for an experienced journalist to join its team as an online news producer/editor. The job includes assigning, editing and publishing breaking business and economic news stories as well as enterprise features. The successful candidate will have several years business reporting and editing experience with a financial publication, wire service, major newspaper or online news site. Previous experience as a business editor preferred; ongoing knowledge and interest in the business world is a must. Must be able to handle multiple tasks in a high pressure environment. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and its subsidiaries are Equal Opportunity Employers. Please use the following link to apply:
Investment Dealers Digest
Location: New York
Investment Dealers Digest (IDD) is looking for a Reporter to cover investment banks, hedge funds, private equity and brokerages. As a member of SourceMedia’s industry-leading team of capital markets journalists, this Reporter would contribute news and news-analysis on a daily basis to IDD’s weekly print edition and related online services, among other things. Candidates must have strong writing and reporting skills, as well as an up-to-date grasp of online media. They must feel comfortable dealing with high-level executives at financial institutions, and demonstrate an ability to cultivate sources. Individuals must be hungry to break news, spot trends, and generate story ideas. Prefer 3 to 5 years experience covering finance markets. Please email resume, which MUST include salary requirements, to be considered to Please include the title of the position in the subject line.
Mandate Wire
News Editor and Editorial Researchers
Location: New York
Mandate Wire, acquired by the Financial Times in August 2009, is now launching a dedicated service to cover the US market and is building an editorial team based in New York to liaise with key institutional investors to produce exclusive copy on investment management mandate contracts before they reach the market. We are seeking a News Editor responsible for the day to day management of the Editorial Researcher team, as well as being an active contributor to the daily, monthly and quarterly content. We are also looking for three Editorial Researchers whose responsibilities include conducting in-depth interviews, drafting intelligence reports for publication on our database and daily news-wire, and keeping the internal contacts database up to date. For more information about the positions and responsibilities, visit To apply, please send cover letter and resume to
The New York Post
Media Reporter
Location: New York
The New York Post’s business section is looking for an aggressive, resourceful media reporter who can regularly break news on major media companies and the industry’s big decision-makers and personalities. Our ideal candidate has a proven track record, strong media clips and a rolodex of contacts that will allow him or her to hit the ground running on media deals and key developments in broadcast, cable, film, music and other areas. We will consider a less experienced journalist who can quickly grow into the beat under the direction of our senior media reporter. Please send your resume and clips to Deputy Business Editor Sara Clemence at

NPR’s Planet Money
Supervising Editor
Location: New York

The Executive Producer of Planet Money provides overall supervision of the series. The position supervises the planning and production for this multi-platform initiative; supervises staff; plans and monitors the unit’s annual budget and approves spending. The position also represents Planet Money and works in coordination with other divisions, including Development, Sponsorship, Member & Program Services, Finance, Strategic Planning, Legal and IT. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent combination of education and experience is required. Candidates must also have at least ten years broadcast journalism, editorial experience; strong editorial skills and judgment; significant writing skills; experience maintaining high journalistic standards under deadline pressure, including standards of objectivity, balance and fairness; managerial experience in supervising editors, producers, and on-air talent; significant skills in planning and scheduling in a union environment; strong editorial or reporting skills in the field of business and economics; demonstrated skill in oral presentation; ability and willingness to work varied shifts; ability and willingness to relocate; proven ability to consistently work well with others, demonstrating at all times respect for the diverse constituencies at NPR and within the public radio system; and understanding and demonstrated use of principles of effective management. Considerable knowledge of basic and advanced principles of audio production for information and news programming is required. Considerable experience and knowledge in web 2.0 including social media, blog writing, digital production and SEO and data visualization is helpful. To apply, please visit

*I have also been contacted by several D.C. news organizations looking for paid interns (undergrad or grad students, focusing on journalism or political science, who have good clips and experience) for the winter/spring semester, starting in January. Please contact me (here or at or on Facebook) and I will connect you.

Happy hunting!



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A fine line between polite persistence and being a pest Networking tips from a pro

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