Networking is a critical part of the study abroad job search process. We've all heard the saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know". Well, it's often true. You obviously need the skills to do the job, but first you need an interview or personal connection where you can communicate your potential. A referral from an insider, who will personally vouch for your work quality and motivation, can help you get a second look or open doors to future opportunities. This is true for newbies and those of you looking to move up/on from an exisiting position.
I get that you already know this stuff. I'm not telling you anything new. But I mention it because what I do find is that how to request help and what to do after recieving help isn't as well understood. Your actions at these two points can make the difference between a professional contact actively supporting your job search or just providing the perfunctory recommendation letter. To be honest, if you really miss the mark you could jeopardize future requests for help.. Yikes!
So here are 3 tips, based on my experiences on the referral side of things --
First, say "Please"
This may seem rather basic, but ask before you list someone as a reference. Even if you are 100% certain the individual will serve and say wonderful things about you, ASK. Even if they said, "thanks for being a kickass intern this summer, feel free to use me as a reference", ASK. Ask nicely and give the person an "out" (you don't want someone who is less than enthusiastic or rushed filling this role). Ask for each and every job posting.
Why? If I get an unexpected phone call from an employer who is interested to hear about your work performance and I don't know: 1) which institution or organization 2) what position it is for 3) your current resume details or 4) why you want this job, how am I supposed to knock it out of the park for you? I need to know some basics before I can answer their questions and serve as a positive reference. It's also basic professional courtesy.
I get that you might be applying on a short timetable and it is 3 AM, but at the very least, send an email to fill them in. If you have already spoken to the person and they have agreed to be a reference, you should repeat "the ask" for each position, providing updated information about the new job postings as you apply.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES:
I once got a call about a wonderful former employee but had to bumble my way through because I wasn't sure if the position was in study abroad or for a residence life position. There is a huge difference in what I'd say, and how I'd say it, based on which position was at stake.
I've also received a call for someone who did not provide a current resume and although I had glowing things to say, the most basic question, "Tell me how long you have know candidate X" was met with an awkward pause as I tried to do mental math and figure out when she last worked in my office. When you have been in a position for a while and take on multiple graduate assistants, practicum students, student employees, and volunteers it can blend together. I don't always have the best memory about these things and I presume other supervisors experience the same "brain blur". Help us out. We don't want a conflict with your resume details.
Stay in touch
Try your best to not just ask and run. If someone agrees to serve as a reference for a job and you have updated information about where you are in the search, take a minute and give them an update too. Let them know if you have landed an in-person interview. Or if you have changed your mind and are no longer searching for positions in study abroad, but are now applying to jobs working with international admissions, let them know. If your geographic target shifts, let them know. You never know when the contact can send along new leads. It also shows you are professional and organized. You don't need to give them a full play by play, but help them feel engaged and invested in your search process with a quick message when it counts.
Remember to say "Thank You"
If you get the job, let them know and send a thank you! Email is the most basic way to say thanks, but a handwritten note is far better. Your reference is now a professional colleague upon whom you might need to call for advice or services. I can tell you it makes a HUGE impression if you do it right. See this adorable bamboo plant to the left...
I received it from an individual I was informally coaching for several years. When she told me she finally "broke in" we were both in a celebratory mood. But I was totally surprised when such a kind, symbolic, and thoughtful gesture showed up at my office the next week. This study abroad pro has a lifelong fan. There may have been a small tear involved that day.
On the other hand, I've had indviduals contact me for references, never provide an update about the job or their search process, then contact me again out of the blue. Their only communication is when they reach out because they want something from me again. It's usually along the lines of, "Hey, Kelly, I need a letter for X by Friday. Thanks!" That doesn't feel very professional and certainly doesn't make me feel like going out of my way for them. You don't need to bribe anyone, Just show some basic appreciation for their role in the process. The person writing you a letter or agreeing to have that 10 minute phone conversation with your future employer is busy .
It can feel like the "list 3 references" is just another field to fill out on an application, but reference input usually comes at the crucial time when the employer is deciding if you get the job or not. In some ways this is more important than the resume. So remember to make the right impression everywhere it counts.