How to Thank Your References

Steve's 80's Party, originally uploaded to Flickr by Bob. B. Brown.Reader C has a great question about thank yous to your references…

I’m anxiously awaiting a few job offers–and am wondering if a $100 gift card to a delicious local restaurant is an appropriate thank you for each of my references? (The potential offers are for healthcare-related opportunities–hospital positions and consulting gigs.) What have you done in the past?

I first misread this question as how to thank your interviewers. (No gift cards to interviewers!) I think this is a cute idea, but one that could be tweaked to make it even better:

Instead of gift cards, take your references to lunch. Ask their career advice, what they think your strong suits are heading into any new job (and, just for your ears, what they think your weaknesses might be!). Ask them how they got to where they are, what they might have done differently given the clarity of hindsight. And then… stay in touch with them. Tell them how you’re doing, ask them to lunch once a year or so and see how they’re doing.

This is how you turn a work colleague into a mentor, at least in my experience. But if you’re far away, a gift card is a nice idea. (Although, truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever thanked my references with any specific “gift”!)  (Pictured above: Steve’s 80’s Party, originally uploaded to Flickr by Bob. B. Brown.)

Readers, how do you thank the people who serve as your references on your resume?

Comments

  1. I think taking someone out for a meal is fine, but an expensive gift is otherwise not. It looks a little too much like a bribe. A token of your appreciation – something edible or small and personalized – would be okay in my view. But you want to avoid any appearance that there’s a references market ( that some people are going to be priced out of ).

    • As one who has given references, I do not expect a gift and would not in fact like to receive one. If you want to take me to lunch, because if I’m doing your reference I’ve probably taken you to lunch, of course, fine.

  2. What about informal references? I recently went through a lot of interviews and as I was interviewing at several law firms in the same small legal market, nearly everyone knew the other people on my resume and talked about me with them, even if I didn’t actually provide them as a reference (as in,
    I ran into Judge X you interned with, he said you did a great job”). Does that require different protocol?

    Also, I’m not entirely sure on the timeline for these conversations – I heard about them after I got the offer, so they could have taken place before or after they had already decided to hire me anyway.

    • karenpadi :

      I do these referrals quite a bit. And I ask for them quite a bit. It’s a more casual way to “get the dirt” on a job applicant that doesn’t go through HR.

      I wouldn’t send anything to Judge X. If I run into her or am contacting her for another matter, I might add a casual thank you. There’s no rush to send the thank-you for this kind of referral, Judge X really isn’t expecting one. She views it as more of a favor to the person who asked.

    • And remember that most judges can’t accept gifts anyway. But calling up the judge and asking them to coffee or a cocktail wouldn’t hurt, and it would be good for your career, too, for them to know what you’re up to.

  3. I hope really nice stationary and sincere, personalized thank you letters are still appropriate…because that is what I did recently.

    In my situation, I had about a dozen people who went out of their way to help me in my search for a new associate position in a different city. I eventually found my current job on Craigslist (gasp), but I wanted them all to know how grateful I was for their assistance and how excited I felt to move and start the new position. Since one of the people e-mailed me to say thanks for the thank-you, I think and hope they were appropriate and well received.

    • does anyone feel a little concerned about giving out their address and contact information when applying for a ton of jobs online? (I haven’t applied to any jobs on craigslist, but I worry about this sometimes and your post made me think of it!)

      • karenpadi :

        I might feel uncomfortable submitting my home address. I figure my work address is already easily google-able via my firm, the state bar, etc.

        I’ve seen a few resumes lately that only include the email and phone number of the candidate. I think that’s perfectly OK.

      • I felt a little strange about this too, so I had a rule – I only applied to posts if I the law firm was completely up front about who they were. There are a lot of junk “ghost” law firm postings. I refused to apply to those. If the firm was legitimate, I could usually find the job posting on their website, and apply directly. I used it as more of a search tool. I was surprised how many smaller firms use it instead of paying for recruiters or OCI, but after I figured it out it only took me about a month to find my current job.

        All that said, I love my tiny firm and normal hours, and I love the creepy internet for letting me find it! :)

  4. AnonInfinity :

    I think Kat’s suggestion is great. I would feel really uncomfortable getting a big gift card from someone that used me as a reference. A thank-you note or a meal (not at an expensive place!) would be the most appropriate, IMO.

  5. As someone who sometimes serves as a reference, I think that a sincere and thoughtful handwritten note is the way to go. It’s fine also to do as Kat suggests and have lunch if you’re in the same city, and it’s a good idea in any event to keep in touch, but in my view no gift is necessary or even appropriate.

    • Research, Not Law :

      This. A thank you note is best. Lunch could also be a good idea depending. Gifts are totally inappropriate.

      • Research, Not Law :

        I should add that it’s sweet that the original poster of the question was considering a gift. I get the impression they were trying to genuinely express thanks rather than buy a good review – but it does run the risk of looking like the latter. As a reference, it would make me very uncomfortable.

        • Anonymous :

          Would it change your mind if it were months after the reference was given? I am not the OP, but I accepted a new job a few months ago and wanted to send a note to each of references giving a little update on how I’m liking the new position, etc and I considered including some nice chocolates. Does that still seem inappropriate. If so, can you say why you feel that way?

          • karenpadi :

            I’d just send the thank-you note with the update. I think of providing references as a professional courtesy and a way to maintain/grow my network. A gift in return for something so small is really too much.

            YMMV, I’m in the Silicon Valley legal market.

          • Something as small as a box of chocolates doesn’t look quite as much like a payoff, but it’s still really not necessary. I would also rather not get a gift because the people for whom I provide references are not nearly as well-off as I am; I am uncomfortable with people who are on a budget spending their hard-earned money on me. A nice note really means much more to me than a gift.

    • I really stuck my neck out for a recent law grad, and got her a job with a professional contact of mine.

      She sent me thank-you flowers after she started.

      I certainly did not expect any gift at all. But I did appreciate it.

      For a normal reference, that would be too much. But I was pretty instrumental in getting her the job, and she knows that. Her new boss pretty much said, “I hired you on Lola’s recommendation.”

  6. Agree with Kat’s suggestion. I was supposed to leave for a 2 week trip on Monday (my first ever) and it was just cancelled due to the weather. I’m super bummed and not really sure what to do now. I don’t want to throw something together at the last minute, but I also don’t think I can take two weeks another time this year and I was really looking forward to some time away . . . any suggestions?

    • Where were you planning to go and what’s your budget? I think there are actually a lot of places you can go at the last minute, especially this time of year, that would be awesome with little planning. If you tell us what you’re interested in, maybe we can throw out some good suggestions!

      • We were planning to go to Thailand. I am interested in places that are a new culture for me — I’ve from the East Coast and I’ve been to Europe, Northern African, and South America. I also love viewing wildlife — so Alaska in the summer is at the top of my list. Otherwise, I’m a pretty easygoing traveler — I don’t need 5 stars, but I don’t want to rough it. Budget-wise I would like to keep it under $4K for 2 people. Thanks for the help!

        • How about Central America? Guatemala, Belize, Panama, and Costa Rica are all often pretty cheap coming from the U.S., easyish to navigate if you want but you can also get more off the beaten track, and there should be room available this time of year?

          • Be careful about this because some places you need to have certain vaccinations and a last minute trip you may not be able to get them in time.

          • Thanks for the response Em. I’ll see what I can find.

          • That’s a good point, anon, though at least last time I went to C.A. you didn’t need anything you wouldn’t for Thailand.

            I’ll add, Costa Rica or Belize would probably be the easiest of the places I listed to coordinate. And if you’re looking at tours, Ancon Expeditions in Panama seems to do good stuff.

          • After exhausting amounts of research, we decided on Costa Rica for 2 weeks on our honeymoon. While we’re spending a lot more than $4k for two, there were LOTS of less expensive options. We’re doing 3 locations, and one of the locations is Monteverde, where we’re staying somewhere quite inexpensive because we’ll be gone hiking all day anyway. Another location is off-the-grid, which really appeals to me given the blackberry always at my side.

        • Business, not Law :

          I know you mentioned that you have visited South America but have you visited Argentina? We went in Sept for nearly 2 weeks and had a phenomenal time. Patagonia is great for scenery and wildlife and wine country (Mendoza) is beautiful and tons of things to do.

        • Last year I went to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and found that Thailand was my least favorite of the three. So you can always stick with the Southeast Asia goal and just pick a different country (I’d also recommend Vietnam, though you may not have enough time to get a visa).

          • Thanks for the reply. Do you mind if I ask why you liked Laos and Cambodia better?

    • Check out budgettravel dot com. They usually have a lot of fairly last minute deals that are pretty inexpensive. The packages available depend on your origin destination.

    • if you’re on the east coast, there are lots of gorgeous cities reachable by train that are wonderful. That way, costs aren’t any more for last minute than ahead of time, and you can still come up with a wonderful itinerary for two weeks of sightseeing… and also plan it for more of a relaxing trip, my problem is often I try to do so much on overseas trips, that I end up coming home more exhausted than before i left!

      I’m thinking Montreal, especially, or Quebec in general, or Charleston, if you want to go the other direction toward less coldness.

  7. Diana Barry :

    Shoot – I never thought to get a reference a gift! I probably sent them a thank you email or something.

  8. I think if someone sent me $100 after being a reference it would seem like too much.

    A thank you is important. I recently changed jobs and I sent my references some pears from Harry & David — a nice gift but I didn’t want to be over the top. Two of the three sent a very nice thank you for the thank you — and the third I wasn’t expecting anything from.

  9. CPA to be :

    Speaking of references… what good timing! Tomorrow I have a second interview with an accounting firm I’m very excited to work for. Please send out good vibes, prayers, etc. into the universe for me. I’m having dinner with a member of the firm tonight, and then a big long interview tomorrow. Any last minute tips? The first interview was about an hour long, very laid back and conversational. I really hope I get this!

  10. here’s a different variation on the situation. when i applied to b-school, i had to get three recommendations from former colleagues/bosses. they wrote lengthy letters on my behalf, filled out a detailed questionnaire for each school i applied to (3), then sent those materials directly to the schools in accordance with the application deadlines.

    it was a lot of work. so when i got into my dream school, I sent thank you gifts to my recommenders – if i recall correctly, i sent a bottle of wine to one, play tickets to another, and gift cert for a really good restaurant to the 3rd.

    • I’m starting my first post-law school job this month at the company I worked for before law school, and the vacation/sick time is the same…15 vacation + 6 sick days.

      My hubby works in house in financial services and they have “paid time off,” which means they don’t make a distinction between sick and vacation days. It works out to him getting like 5 weeks of vacation a year since he’s never sick.

      I think PTO is soooo much better than separating vacation and sick days (when the sick days are use them or lose them). I feel like the separation penalizes healthy people and encourages calling in *sick* with a hangover. Not that I’ve ever done this before. ;-)

  11. I can’t remember if we’ve discussed this in the past or not, but I’m curious about vacation time.

    – How many (paid) vacation days do you get a year?
    – Do you take them all?
    – Job/industry?

    I’m in-house, 5 years out from law school, and I get 13 days a year. Take them all. # of vacation days increases with years of employment at company.

    • I’m a scientist in an industry consultant company. I’m 2 years out of school and get two weeks of vacation a year. I also “earn” days off when I’m doing site visits that mean I’m gone for weekends. I usually take some of those, as well. Between the two, I think I was somewhere near 300 potential vacation hours. Obviously, I can’t take them all, but I’m currently taking 3 weeks off for Christmas, partly out of spite.

    • Not directly comparable, but I’ll chime in.

      MD; essentially employed by a hospital but have production targets and am technically an independent contractor…

      4 weeks/year, have at least 2 weeks planned, will probably take 3 plus occasional extra days here or there.

    • Vacation Days :

      I get 4 weeks vacation/year. I’m a third year attorney. At my first firm, whether you used your vacation depended on if you were hitting hours. At my new firm, which is much smaller and less hours focused, it depends on if your work load can handle it. 4 weeks is not the norm at my small firm but I got it as part of my package. They couldn’t match my bigger firm salary and tried to cover the difference by matching the vacation time.

    • I’m in-house (nonprofit), 6 years out of law school, and I get 15 days. And I take them all. I also get 10 sick days.

    • AnonInfinity :

      First-year atty, medium-sized private law firm. We don’t have a set number of days per year, you just take off what you want as long as you keep up with deadlines and hours.

      I’ve only been here a few months, so I haven’t taken any yet. I do plan to take some time off each year.

    • I get 3 weeks vacation, plus 2 personal days. And 10 sick days.

      Usually, I like to carry some over, but they announced that we have to take them all this year. We also have to schedule them all now. I’ve basically given up interviewing right now because I won’t have any vacation days to use since I had to schedule them all.

      Also, if we use more than 4 or 5 sick days, HR has announced that they’ll start investigating us. Nice, huh?

      • Surely you mean 4-5 sick days in a row? Most employers require a Dr’s note for extended medical absences and I don’t really see anything wrong with this.

    • I get 22 days
      I plan to bank 2 weeks. Hoping for a big overseas trip in my 2nd year.
      I’m in education. 2 years out from law school.

    • I’m in marketing, and I get 10 days of vacation, plus 5 sick days. Since I can roll-over some of my hours, and I’m hoping to take a longer vacation next year, I’ll use most of my vacation days, but not all.
      Re: sick days, what’s everyone’s policy on that? I’m young and healthy, but I lose the sick days if I don’t use them. We can take sick days for doctor’s appts, but that won’t take me all day. And, aren’t sick days part of the total compensation package, so if you don’t take them, you’re leaving money on the table? I guess I feel like I shouldn’t take sick days unless I am, in fact, ill. And REALLY ill, not just “mental health day” ill, since our policy doesn’t specify “mental health” like some companies do.

    • Business, not Law :

      We have an ala carte benefits/flex package that at surface can sound kind of confusing. But in short, I get:
      –15 days holiday/vacation/sick–all in one bucket and you must use
      –8 company sponsored days (this varies according to years of service, I just bumped up this year and am in my 7th year with the company but before that I got 4)
      –Then you can “purchase” up to 18 more days off. (I usually purchase 5-8 to use up my flex credits)

      I probably use 20 days total (like I said above, including holidays where the office is closed). The way the benefit package is structured, we actually get paid back at the end of the year for any days we don’t use. We can’t roll any days/time b/c of deferred compensation, etc. So you are definitely incentivized NOT to take much beyond the 15 mandatory because it can result in a nice “bonus” at the end of the year.

      I am in the healthcare sector on the corporate end of things.

    • I’m three years out of law school and working for a non-profit. I get 4 weeks a year vacation + 3 weeks a year sick leave. (+ all federal holidays) I use about 3 weeks a year. I’m required to use or lose at lease 8 days/year until I reach 5 years of employment. After 5 years, I don’t have to use any and can sell back unused vacation up to a certain number of hours.

    • Because I changed jobs in the middle of last year, and the vacation days are “earned” in the previous year, I had 19 days this year from my current job. I have four days left this year, and will be spending them around Christmas. The days don’t roll over to next year unless you have a special request, so it’s use them or lose them.

      Next year, I’ll have 25 days (or five weeks) of vacation days. In addition comes government holidays (this year it is 7 days, next year it is 9) which also are paid vacation days. This is pretty much the standard in Norway regardless of which industry you work in, and you’re strongly encouraged to take them.

    • Quasi-legal job 1st year post-law, 5 weeks (25 days) paid vacation per year, company HQ in UK but same benefits apply to US office. Required to take them all. Discretionary sick leave as well. Euro benefits FTW =)

    • Anonymous :

      24 days plus compensatory days for travel on weekends and holidays, 6th year attorney at a large international nonprofit. Do I take them all? Bwahahahaha. If I get to the point where I’ve accumulated so many days I’m going to lose them, then I take a week off and start over again.

    • 2nd-year public defender
      18 days vacation + comp days for night/weekend arraignment shifts = 30-40 total
      + Fed holidays (all)
      + unlimited sick days

    • 8-year attorney at mid-size law firm in Dallas. 2 weeks vacation + unlimited sick. I’ve never taken more than 5 days off for vacation. Nothing rolls over, you can’t buy back, no credit if unused, but very hard to get approval to take off more than 1 week a year (even if you’re entitled to 2). Awesome, huh?

    • State government. 16 years in December. I get 3 weeks. We’re “use or loose” so I take them all.

      • The 3 weeks is just vacation. We also get 1 sick/month, which can be “banked”. We can also use it hourly increments for doctor appointments and dentist appointments. So I usually use 1 or 2 a year and then bank the rest.

    • small nonprofit (<50 employees)
      pay is beyond pathetic, but full-time employees start at 3-wks vacation per year, and after two years of employment it goes up to 4 wks.

      I am definitely taking every single one (see above re: pay) and it's pretty easy to take them. My manager usually lets me decide when I want to be gone, no matter what else is happening, and management is pretty accepting that things just won't happen if people are on vacation, and it's not the end of the world.

      10 years out of school, I've spent most of that in the political and nonprofit world, and this is the first time that I have actually taken my vacation as actual vacation. Which is pretty nice. But honestly, I'd prefer to get paid a living wage at this point in my life. oh well.

    • Medium pharma, 4 years post-grad school and I get 10 vacation days, 2 personal, 2 floater, 8 sick, and the major federal holidays.

      We’re now allowed to cary over vacation days for 6 months into the next year (year based on employment anniversary, not calendar). Personal, floater, and sick time are based on the calendar year and are not carried over.

      I tend to horde vacation time all year and then get stuck just staying home to clean the house and work part of the day. I rarely take actual, out of town vacations.

    • I am a state government employee and I get 6 weeks of vacation time and two weeks of sick time annually. I usually use it all but it does roll over. I only lose the sick time if I leave.

    • I’m a government employee and get 4.5 weeks of vacation and 2.5 weeks of sick lave. The pay is abysmal, so I take most of my vacation days and about half of my sick days. I think sick leaves rolls over indefinitely and vacation leave rolls over until you’ve accrued 4-5 months.

    • I’m the Director of Business Development for a non-profit association. I have been here 11 years, but the benefits “tap out” at the 7 year mark. I’ve mentioned to HR that maybe they should add another tier of perks for 10+ years, but so far … nope.

      15 paid vacation days per year (use or lose; allowed to carry over one year’s total vacation days; anything more is lost)
      15 paid sick days per year (these accrue indefinitely; I have 600 hours)

      I generally have a balance of 100 hours of vacation time carried over to the next year, but I definitely DO use the 15 days and then some. I earn “administrative days” for working weekends due to travel/meetings, so I take those as well.

      Sick leave… rarely if ever take that.

  12. I’m a little surprised that so many people are against gifts of appreciation. Of course they are unnecessary, but it is a nice gesture. i’ve helped plenty of people get jobs (e.g. by introducing them to key contacts, by passing on their CVs, by putting in a well-placed good word … etc), but I only do it when I’m confident in their skills and their candidacy, typically because I worked with them, studied with them, or met extensively with them at some point and am comfortable with publicly putting my faith in them. That’s what networking is all about. I don’t expect anything more than a thank you, but when I do get something additional (a bottle of wine, or something similar – usually if the candidate is successful) I simply see it as a nice gesture of appreciation, not some strange inference that my support can be “bought” or that i’m susceptible to bribes. If I didn’t want to serve as your reference, I would have said so.

    To the OP: a nice note or card is great. If you eventually get your dream job, and you want to further share the joy with your references by sending a small gift – do it! You’ll be happy, they’ll be happy for you, and I don’t think anyone would be suspicious or offended.

    Good luck!

    • AnonInfinity :

      My hesitancy about the OP’s proposed gift is that it’s so expensive. Something $20 or less can be really nice, but something in the $100 range would make a lot of people I know uncomfortable. Maybe not because of the bribery implication that others have brought up, but because the gift is disproportionate from the gesture.

    • Anonymous :

      I don’t think that people are against gifts of appreciation, it’s just that $100 for a reference seems weird and a lot too much.

    • I’m so glad to hear a person who gives references say that a token of appreciation is a good idea and a nice gesture. I recently asked 5 very accomplished individuals to write references for my bar application, and it required them to drop what they were doing and take the time to focus on me, a new law school graduate without any law experience, and complete a reference form. One of my references, unbeknownst to me, had to write my reference during short visits between lengthy trips out of the country! I was so grateful. I struggled with how to thank them appropriately, and I decided on a dozen chocolate covered strawberries (no nuts) from Edible Arrangements for $25, plus shipping. It seemed to be the perfect way to thank them since it wasn’t over the top, it was a healthy treat they could share with colleagues or family, and my references took the time to let me know they enjoyed the treat very much. The think the token should not overshadow what they did for you, but should show gratitude for their support and effort on your behalf.

  13. karenpadi :

    I would say a $100 gift card is a more appropriate gift for someone who has referred clients to you. It is not appropriate for this situation.

    For me, acting as a reference is a professional favor that is simply part of being in a profession where people move around/change careers/etc. The benefit I receive is networking and meeting new people who might later somehow send a benefit my way.

    In a situation where the reference-seeker is not an attorney (paralegal or other support staff) or is a less senior attorney, I think inviting the reference to lunch is best. As the more senior person, I always expect to pay for lunch regardless of the context. So even where the purpose of the lunch is to thank me, I pay for lunch. If the reference is out of town, I’d send a thank you note and make sure to touch base the next time I’m in town.

    And ugh, on to the ugly side of networking for women as illustrated so well by the Herman Cain fiasco. Some men will try to take advantage. One man I previously trusted to not be “that kind of guy” “surprised” me with a romantic picnic lunch instead of our regular sushi lunch. I don’t know how to avoid this. It has happened to several of my friends. Even though you “don’t technically” work together, you are meeting are professionals. That makes it sexual harassment in my eyes.

    My only advice for women who find themselves in an inappropriate situation is to not blame themselves and to avoid that person in the future. For bonus points, I’d warn other women who are meeting with that man.

  14. Anonymous :

    I thanked my law school references with chocolate — they all seemed to appreciate it!

  15. In follow up to our jogger discussion a few weeks ago- today someone was injured while jogging in the bike lane of an extremely busy road before sunrise. This bike lane is adjacent to a perfectly serviceable sidewalk. It just amazes me that people would rather put their lives at risk to run in a bike lane (at night) than just use the sidewalk.

    • I totally agree with you. My brother runs in the bike lane because he says asphalt is easier on the knees than concrete. I’ve read that elsewhere as well, but I never run on the street — too many people driving while on the phone, texting, checking their phones, etc. and not paying attention — it’s just not safe. Be careful out there runners!

  16. This question hit a nerve for me. I work 4 days per week as an administrator at a private high school (one of a handful who report to the President). As a “part time” (80%) employee, I’m not automatically entitled to vacation time (!!!). Don’t get me started.

    So — to answer your question, I negotiated for five vacation days in last year’s review. I do take them all. I work in nonprofit fundraising in the education sector.

  17. I have given flowers or chocolate as a thank-you to people who acted as references for me (accompanied by a card or an in-person visit), but only in situations where they had to actively do something like write a letter, and I also knew them pretty well personally. For someone who acted as a reference and just said nice things about me on the phone, I think a card, or a small gift after you get the job (so they’re no longer acting as your reference), would be appropriate. Definitely not a $100 gift card, which is excessive.

  18. Gifts aren’t appropriate for references. A nice card or otherwise note is. MAYBE if something very, very small. Lunch may be too much time to ask, even.

    On the vacation… interesting to read the thread. This is my biggest complaint in work life. I LOVE my job in every other way, but it’s 2 weeks, and takes 18 years to get to 4 weeks- and I joined the company in mid-30’s. And they expire half of sick leave every year. It is so demoralizing to see every one else, all guys who’ve been there their whole careers, take their quarterly vacations when I haven’t had a day off in ages. And no comp time for many trips on weekends etc. I have tried and tried to negotiate this based on my yrs experience with no luck. It was already a conundrum for me, but now I am pregnant so it’s bugging me more than ever. My only hoped solution is to get more pay and take time off accordingly, but doubtful that year of maternity leave is when they will give me a big raise. Bosses and team love me, but the corporate policy is very strict. Any advice welcome. Would love to stay, truly happy otherwise in job, and not as if have other things on horizon anyway or want them especially this year. Just tired and need a vacation.

  19. one more detail on this- my bosses are flexible so i can work from home sometimes, take personal appointments etc, just not whole days off. but that makes it livable.

  20. Regarding gifts for references, I think it’s a good thing – especially because it keeps up the chain of communication. I waited until I’d accepted a job offer and then got the two judges who had been most supportive each a nice bottle of scotch (after checking to make sure there were no issues with alcohol abuse). They were so touched they ended up taking me out to lunch, a really nice opportunity to get to know them outside of the office environment.

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