How to check out your own references

April 21, 2010 at 3:32 am Leave a comment

When recruiters are asked to identify the most important tools in a job seeker’s arsenal, they usually give an answer that involves the Big Three of Job Hunting: resume, interview and references. And while most job hunters spend a fair amount of time polishing their resume and preparing for job interviews, pulling together references is often a last-minute effort. Many job hunters figure that if their interviews went well and the prospective employer is checking their references, that they can cruise to the finish line and wait for the phone call with that job offer!

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Much can — and often does — go wrong in the reference round, and that is often because job hunters don’t prepare their references for what to expect (see Oct. 28 post, “Getting the most out of your references”) and don’t think about what specific references they need for a certain job. Checking out your own references in advance of their discussions about you with a prospective employer is one of the best ways to protect your interests in a job hunt.

Here are some ways to increase the odds that your references will help you land the offer:

*Make sure your references can be easily reached. It’s a simple thing, but if a prospective employer has to play several rounds of phone tag to reach a reference, they may give up, and that doesn’t help your candidacy. Be sure to provide several ways to get in touch with each reference you list, and include at least one phone number. (Most recruiters still prefer to talk to references on the phone rather than to trade emails.) Double-check to make sure contact information is accurate; don’t make the hiring manager do extra work to find a reference. If you are listing a former professor or academic adviser as a reference, make sure to have updated information for them, especially if it’s a time of year that their college or university may be out of session.

*Take pains to ensure that your reference feels comfortable recommending you for this job. A former colleague may think the world of you as a journalist and a person, for instance, but may not really think this position is the best fit for your specific skill set. Try to suss that out BEFORE they get a phone call asking them that very question. Some references are good at “faking it,” but an experienced recruiter often can sense hesitation or ambivalence in a reference’s answers. In that case, it’s better to find another reference for this particular job. And it’s perfectly acceptable to list some references for one job opening you’re pursuing and others for another.

*Consider how a reference will come across to a prospective employer. Ideally, they should sound honest, credible, friendly and most of all, knowledgeable and favorable about your fitness for the position. You’re not necessarily looking for someone to market and pitch your attributes — presumably you’ve already done that well to get this far in the hiring process — but for someone to help make the case for why you’re right for this job. If a reference sounds wishy-washy or alternately if they give overly positive, glowing answers to every question (“he’s the BEST journalist I’ve ever met!,” “She was a perfect employee..”) the hiring manager may simply disregard most of what they have to say, figuring they’re not a credible source. And this could rub off on you — they may start to wonder about your trustworthiness as well.

*Help prepare your reference. Many otherwise organized job hunters miss this crucial step. Perhaps because it can be awkward to discuss your attributes — and potential shortcomings — with someone you respect enough to list as a reference, a surprising number of job hunters don’t have even a cursory conversation on this topic beyond “Would you act as a reference?” (And some don’t even do that — often at their own peril. The last thing you want is for a hiring manager to have a surprised reference on the other end of the phone. “Oh, I didn’t realize she was looking for a new job” is not how you want a conversation about you to begin!) Have this discussion. Tell them why you think this job is a good fit for you, why you’d like to be made an offer and what you think the hiring manager wants to know about you. Help them help you by discussing what you think are some competitive advantages and disadvantages you have in this final round — your reference, if prepared, may be able to minimize some potential worries the hiring manager has about you and may be able to underscore traits that will land you the job. But if you don’t prepare them, you risk that they won’t do you much help and could even hurt your candidacy. Before they get a phone call from the hiring manager, make one to them.

*Another bit of good job news to pass along about a dcworks supporter — CQ’s Meghan McCarthy will be joining Congress Daily as a health care reporter on May 3. When asked for her No. 1 piece of advice to other job hunters, Meghan was succinct: “Stay in touch with former colleagues” — as one of them told her about the job opening. Congratulations, Meghan!

*And here are some openings to consider:

*The NewsHour Extra, a site for teachers and students, has an opening in D.C. for a director:

Director, NewsHour Extra Student Reporting Labs:
NewsHour Extra, the award-winning site for teachers and students, is looking for a highly creative, tech-savvy, problem-solving, enthusiastic and public-service minded educator and producer to join our team.  The NewsHour Extra Director will coordinate and drive forward the innovative new Student Reporting Labs project.

The Director will work with sites across the country participating in a multi-media teaching and learning pilot project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  The Student Reporting Labs match professional public media journalism mentors with classrooms to produce student-reported and produced videos for NewsHour Extra and show that journalism is a powerful learning and teaching tool.  The Director will also help manage the teacher section of NewsHour Extra, working with a network of teachers to create current events educational resources.  Communication skills and a high level of comfort with new technologies and social media platforms are a must. The Director will also assist with general assignment duties and production. The position is located in the Washington, D.C. area.

Duties include, but are not limited to, coordinating pilot sites, traveling to local stations and classrooms, video transfer and encoding, identifying new promotion and outreach opportunities, grant reporting, web production of lesson plans, community building, and assisting the Managing Editor-Education create a consistent and coherent approach to teachers.  Thinking outside the box will be a daily activity.

QUALIFICATIONS: At least 4 years professional experience in the education media field: teaching at the high school level or working with high school teachers.  Demonstrated communication, writing, web production and project management skills required.  Proficiency in Final Cut Pro or other video editing programs.  Must be highly organized and creative. Public speaking, public media and reporting experiences are big pluses.


CONTACT: Interested parties should email a resume, cover letter and list of at least three references to: lclapman@newshour. org. No calls please.

*, which will be launching a number of hyperlocal sites, is looking for journalists to join its team in the D.C. area — mostly in suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia — in the next few months:

We are on the hunt for talented, motivated entrepreneurial journalists with multimedia skills to join our team, and I am guessing that you all have connections with current students who might fit that bill. Here is the general job description for which we are hiring: I’d suggest sending a cover letter and resume to <>, addressing their letters to Renee Waters, Recruiter.

*The following is a free-lance opportunity for experienced writers:

Experienced Freelance Writers Wanted:
One of my clients has charged me with serving as managing editor of a book that compiles success stories of technologies born from academic research. As such, I need to hire some experienced writers. These stories are rather like feature stories but can be pretty technical — both in terms of the technology itself (which may come from the medicine, engineering, or agricultural school) as well as the process of technology transfer and the licensing deal.

The articles are 1200 words (three interviews), the pay is $750 per article. These are challenging stories to write on a number of levels, so I need savvy, diplomatic, professional people.  Also, the stories will be vetted on the story side pretty heavily (it’s political with lots of players) as well as on the client side by the committee in charge of putting this book together. So, if your ego gets bruised easily, this may not be the job for you. 😉

Finally, I’m not gonna lie, I’m a tough editor. Having written these pieces myself in the past, I know they are challenging, but I’m going to demand high-quality work. This client is my bread and butter, so I am going to make sure this project sings. If you are still interested after all these disclaimers, send me an email at I will require samples and references, so I can assure my client that I am thoroughly vetting everyone I hire.

Lisa Richter, Independent Writer, Editor and Consultant

*With a hat tip to (for these next few leads), Georgetown University Press in D.C. is looking for a part-time marketing assistant:

Title: Marketing Assistant (Part Time)
Description: Georgetown University Press seeks a part-time Marketing Assistant to support all departments at the Press by managing and administering its press-wide FileMaker Pro database. The Marketing Assistant will work with staff to make changes and improvements to the database as necessary; maintain the population of sales and fulfillment data; maintain efficient, accurate, and frequent flow of data to all appropriate industry contacts via ONIX feed; manage and administer the Press website by performing frequent upload of information to the site, updating content, analyzing statistics and sales, and ensuring that all the information on the site is correct.
Requirements: Bachelor’s degree required; up to one year of experience in publishing, preferably scholarly or nonfiction; proficiency in MS Word, Excel, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Photoshop, Filemaker Pro or other databases. Excellent proofreading, writing, and organizational skills, as well as ability to juggle and prioritize multiple tasks and meet deadlines.
Location: 3240 Prospect St, NW, Washington, DC 20007
How To Apply For This Job: To apply, submit cover letter and resume by 5/21/2010 by email to Please be sure to indicate “Application: Marketing Assistant” in the email subject line. Or submit by mail to Gina Lindquist, Marketing and Sales Director, Georgetown University Press, 3240 Pros

*The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has an opening in D.C. for a director of communications:

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is seeking a qualified candidate for the position of Director of Communications to provide leadership and management of the Association’s communications activities. Those activities include: development of a communications program that reinforces the Association’s policy positions; demonstrates the value of transportation and the activities of the state departments of transportation; supports the technical services of the Association; and provides timely and factual information to the public.

Responsibilities include: overseeing the preparation and publication of the weekly newsletter and numerous policy-related publications; supervising the Association web site and the web-tv site Transportation TV; overseeing the Association’s media relations program; the National Transportation Marketing Campaign; and the AASHTO Information Resources Center.

The successful candidate will work with the Executive Director and the Division Directors to develop appropriate communications strategies for key association issues, including the development of messages and supporting materials.

This position is located in Washington DC.  Salary commensurate with experience. Generous benefits package. Send resumes in confidence to AASHTO, Attn. Human Resources Manager, 444 N. Capitol Street, NW, Suite 249, Washington, DC 20001.  Fax resumes to 202-624-8471. Email to EOE.

*And to wrap up today’s leads, the World Resources Institute in D.C. is looking for a media relations director:

World Resources Institute
Industry Non-profit
Job Duration Full Time
Job Location Washington, DC USA
Job Requirements Overview:
WRI is seeking a superb manager and media relations leader who possesses expertise in the most current and relevant media relations strategies. The Media Relations Director is a key member of WRIs Media Relations Team and External Relations Department, and is a front-line representative of WRI to local, national and international news media including print, broadcast and on-line media.

This position will involve both proactive planning and implementation of ambitious, comprehensive media strategies as well as reactive, rapid and daily interaction with media outlets on both specific issue projects and the institute as a whole. The Media Relations Director will provide vision and leadership for implementing WRIs comprehensive media strategy for the overall messages and reputation of WRI as well as for its individual programmatic focal points.

She/he will work to build the profile and credibility of WRI among key journalists, implementing agreed-upon media strategies and utilizing well-honed persuasive messaging on specific issues including climate change, ecosystems protection and services, sustainable business models and environmental governance. She/he will work collaboratively with a wide range of individuals throughout the Institute including the President and senior staff. The ability to continually coordinate, and share information with, key staff in the Programs, Development Department and External Relations Department will be crucial.


In close coordination with the VP-External Relations:

Build, broaden, and nurture relationship with key journalists who cover WRI issue areas
Develop and implement a comprehensive, ambitious international WRI media strategy along with complementary project-specific media strategies, and ensure consistency between the two.
Devise media strategies in line with WRIs program and project objectives; work with Program staff to develop and implement media strategies for appropriate launches, announcements, conferences and other events.
Coordinate outreach strategies with the VP of External Relations, the Director of Online Communications, Development staff and other ER staff.
Collaborate in this planning with External Relations and key program staff members;
Build, broaden, and nurture relationship with key journalists who cover WRI issue areas
Write and edit materials for distribution to the news media, including press releases, advisories, fact sheets and sound bites;
Draft opinion pieces, commentary and global statements of purpose.
Enhance and supervise WRIs ability to engage journalists effectively, and respond quickly to fast-changing developments.
Organize press conferences and media tours for senior WRI staff
Develop and supervise media training for WRI staff
Supervise tracking of media hits and provide media coverage reports to WRI staff
Promptly fulfill information requests from the news media;
Monitor and prepare regular reports on media coverage of WRI.

Minimum of 8 years experience in journalism or media relations, preferably with an environmental or scientific organization;
Strong commitment to and understanding of the environmental and sustainability issues;
The ability to multi-task on a hourly basis;
Strong organizational, coordination, and planning skills;
Strong computer skills, proficiency in Microsoft Office Suites;
Experience with VOCUS management software preferred;
The ability to work in a highly collaborative work environment;
Management experience preferred;
Excellent written and oral communications skills in English; Fluency in a second language is preferred;
Experience developing an international media strategy preferred;
Bachelors degree in a relevant academic discipline; Masters degree will be a plus.

The External Relations department is in charge of all things outreach. ERs mission is to help programs achieve their objectives by first identifying audiences and targets of influence, and then developing and executing strategies to get information to those audiences in the most effective way possible. This may involve traditional media, publications (and other products of different lengths), conferences & events, blogging & web content, social media, video, photography or some combination of these strategies.

Good luck on the hunt!



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