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by DEB KOEN | March 10, 2009


Question: Is it OK to send some good references along with a cover letter and resume when making the first contact with a potential employer? I plan to do this because my resume doesn't include strong work experience. The references will serve, hopefully, as a more convincing source.

-- Nick, Boston

Nick: The first point of contact with a potential employer should be as compelling as possible. It is customary, however, for the employer to determine interest before introducing references through letters of recommendation or phone conversations.

The typical sequence -- and the one that employers are accustomed to -- is submission of a cover letter and resume, followed by an interview. References are then provided as a follow-up to an interview, ideally to reinforce the interviewee's strength as a candidate and to solidify the employer's interest.

It is desirable, also, for references to tailor their remarks to the specific position and employer. Out of consideration for your references, therefore, it is advisable to save your requests for letters until potential employers have expressed interest after interviewing, so that your references don't collapse in agony from writer's cramp. The other option, although the impact will be somewhat diminished, is to secure generic letters from your references that can be used again and again.

Understanding the protocol, if you believe your letters of recommendation would help to overcome gaps in your experience and allow you to be screened in rather than out of the interviewing process, why not float a couple of trial balloons and compare your success rate?

-- Ms. Koen responds to questions each week in the Careers Q & A column. Ms. Koen is a vice president of Career Development Services, a Rochester, N.Y.-based, nonprofit career-management organization that helps individuals and organizations grow through change. She designed and currently manages the telecounseling program, drawing on her experience in business, education and the nonprofit sector. Ms. Koen earned an M.A. in counseling from Colgate University and a B.A. in political science from Utica College of Syracuse University.

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