Julie Brush Julie Brush.

Professional references are an important part of the hiring process. And a positive endorsement can serve as the exclamation point at the end of a quality candidacy. So assembling a stable of colleagues willing to sing your praises at a moment’s notice is a good career strategy. Some lawyers deal with the issue of soliciting references as the need arises. While others prefer to have their list of cheerleaders preselected for a rainy day.

Depending on how you’ve managed your career, both approaches can work. But for those who want to secure high quality references sooner rather than later, the following suggestions will help you do so successfully:

Solicit References Upon Departure From Your Current Job.

It should be every professional’s goal to leave an employer on good terms with his/her head held high. This maximizes goodwill and the opportunity to ask soon-to-be or recently former colleagues for their support if/when you need it in the future. So whether you are leaving for greener pastures or just taking a break, include this task on your to do list of departure items. What to say? Here’s an example:

“Robert, it’s been such a pleasure working with you. I feel like you know my work well and that we had a great working relationship. So I wanted to know if you’d feel comfortable serving as a future reference should the situation ever arise. Would you be open to that?”

Stay Actively Connected With Former Colleagues.

Staying actively connected with former colleagues is extremely important if you plan to tap any of them as references either now or in the future. You don’t have to hang out regularly or meet for drinks every week. But you do need to stay in touch periodically. A happy holidays message, sending an interesting article, meeting up at a professional event, a professional introduction or just an email to say hi. These are all low maintenance ways to stay connected. And when the time comes for your Ask, it won’t be from out of the blue and your colleague will feel more comfortable saying yes.

Choose Your References and Proactively Reach Out.

Most employers ask for a spectrum of reference profiles that typically include a former or current manager, internal client, peer or managee. So make a list of past and present colleagues who fall into these categories—and whom you’d like to include as part of your endorsement team. Then, reach out directly—though email, phone, coffee, lunch etc. and ask for their support. Your messaging will depend on a few factors including whether you are actively on the market and your sensitivity around confidentiality. Below is a sample message addressing either situation:

“Hi Jane, thanks for getting together for coffee. As part of my career development and organization, I’m working on creating a group of former colleagues who would serve as references should the need arise. [I’m not on the market, but] The Lawyer Whisperer blog suggested it as a good way to get organized, so I’m giving it a try. Given our past working relationship, would you be willing to be a future resource?”

Be Great in Your Job.

In today’s microscopic world, everybody knows everybody. And backdoor due diligence is commonplace. Employers seeking the real scoop on candidates often contact professionals off-line and without warning about their former colleagues. It’s a process that is totally out of the candidate’s control. So the best way to maximize a good review in these situations … is to be great: as a lawyer, as a colleague, as a manager, as an employee, as a professional and as a person. It’s exceptionally difficult, but it’s a noble goal to strive for. And no one can argue with greatness.

Good references are the final punctuation of a successful candidacy. So time and effort must be dedicated to ensure that you’ll have the high quality endorsements ready when you need them. So do the legwork required and you’ll tee others up to solidify your mark and support your success.

Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.