If you ask someone to serve as a reference in 2022, but it’s 2025 before you need that reference, make sure you’ve had contact between now and then. This doesn’t mean you have to set up a lunch date every week. It can be as simple as commenting on their social media posts or texting them a note of encouragement.
“Don’t just be a taker. You’ve got to give,” Woods explains.
Meanwhile, keep collecting potential references wherever you work, volunteer, attend class or collaborate. This isn’t to say that you should view others as a means to an end or create a false sense of camaraderie. Rather, when you truly click with people who might vouch for your leadership style, work ethic or creative problem-solving abilities, it’s wise to keep those contacts top of mind.
Ideally, Woods recommends, you accrue contacts who can advocate for you on three levels:
1. Manager: A former supervisor can speak to your performance.
2. Peer: A colleague can speak to your sense of teamwork.
3. Cross-functional team member: A co-worker in a different department can speak to what it’s like to collaborate with you.
For those who are switching careers, in the midst of a job search or entering the workforce for the first time, Woods says it’s OK to get creative. “There could be a professor or even a fellow student who might serve as a reference. If you’ve worked on a volunteer basis, your team leader could speak to your character or work ethic,” she says.