Famously and often said…it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Well, not really. The real leverage isn’t in the casual acquaintance. It’s through the trusted connection…the I’ll vouch for her…because I trust her. Trust is earned through shared work, failure and success and being there in the moment when others aren’t watching. These experiences then lead to genuine stories...an inside look into the character and core values of a person. And it’s this insight that is so valuable in sharing confidence for someone.
If receiving a reference first determine how the person giving the referral is related to that individual. If they haven’t had direct, shared experience, please find someone that does.
And if giving a reference, only do so when you throughly understand the context of the next project and the details of the work to be performed. Otherwise it’s virtually worthless information for everyone involved. A reference discussion should benefit the person vouched for as much as the receiving party. The insight gained during that conversation might be more valuable to your co-worker or friend than the interview itself.
And finally, reference letters are shortcuts, an easy method of conveying mostly surface information to a broad audience. They’re kind of like most brand advertising…largely ineffective with no way to measure results.