References – a two-way street

13 Aug

While visiting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park yesterday I was warmly greeted by a face from the past. She had started on our course four years ago before leaving to pursue her interest in the performing arts. We both had kind things to say to each other – but both struggled to put a name to the once familiar face.

Today, I’ve been asked to write a reference for another student I last taught four years ago. In this case, I know the name and the face well, but still don’t feel I know her well enough to answer questions on character, reliability, punctuality and performance.

References rely on memory and on record-keeping – but they above all come down to relationships. Which of my students will remember me in three years time? Would any, as I did, travel the length of the country to attend a lunch to celebrate my tutor’s thirty years in the same academic institution?

How can I be helped to remember my students well enough to write a well-informed reference? Here are some commonsense tips.

  • Ask before nominating someone as a referee. It’s a courtesy, I’ve never said ‘no’, and it gives you the opportunity to provide an update on your progress and your plans.
  • Do something to stand out from the crowd. But make sure that it’s legal and decent.
  • Use the appropriate tools in the armoury of relationship building and maintenance. There are letters, postcards, Christmas cards, emails, blogs, Facebook, phone calls etc etc. Over-communicating is usually a lesser and more easily forgiven fault than the alternative.

References rely on personal relationships, a two-way street. And developing and maintaining personal relationships should come easily to PR graduates.

3 Responses to “References – a two-way street”

  1. Stuart Bruce 13/08/2007 at 5:32 pm #

    I’d add that when asking for a reference make it about something specific. I’m happy to give a reference that says “Joe Bloggs played an essential role in Project X by conducting background research, contributing ideas and drafting news releases that were published in regional and trade media”. I’m usually reluctant to give one about generic, character stuff. It’s also worth remembering that if you give a reference you can be legally liable for what you’ve said – so being too nice (or nasty) isn’t an option.

  2. Lauren Vargas 14/08/2007 at 3:14 pm #

    “Do something to stand out from the crowd.”
    I stay in contact with two of my former communications professors. As a student, I made them this deal: Any wealth to come my way would be given to the communications department in return for my name on the building. We talk and write on a regular basis and I update them on accomplishments bringing me closer to changing the name on the university building.

  3. Peter Berry 19/09/2007 at 2:15 pm #

    I agree very much with Stuart about specificity. It’s the same as writing your own CV – what did the person do to make adifference and what changed as a result.

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