Periodically, I receive (either solicited or unsolicited) an e-mail with a resume that also has one or more reference letters attached. I must admit that I find these to be of little to no value to me. While I don’t offer this opinion unsolicited to the individual, once I have a follow up conversation, the candidate will usually ask my opinion about it, or whether they should send them out on their own when they are dealing directly with a company.
While reference letters have their place, for the IT professional, this is a limited place. What is of more value is a reference; a person you know and who knows you professionally that can be engaged by a recruiter or company in a discussion about you, your skills, your strengths, and yes, even your shortcomings.
A resume and reference letter work to serve the same purpose; to market/sell your skills to a prospective employer. Most anything of value (outside of how well you got along with your co-workers) that would be in a reference letter should be on your resume. Why leave anything out, right? So if your resume has all of the details, what does the reference letter do for you? Not much!
Stepping off my soap box, I will provide the following caveats to my previous statements. References can be of value if one or more of the following holds true.
• The person writing the reference letter holds a position of much significance, particularly within your niche/function/technical area (Your direct supervisor, CIO, etc.)
• you are an entry level IT professional without a long record of professional employment to stand upon
• The reference goes into the details of your function & value to the organization, not just a nice letter telling all that you work well with others.
So, while there do exist some cases where the reference letter provides some value, my suggestion is to save the paper and instead invest your energy brushing up your resume, networking with your peers, and identifying the people who can provide you the best verbal reference because that’s where you’ll see the return on your investment.