Everything You Need to Know about References


Whether you are an experienced professional seeking a senior position or a recent graduate in line for an entry-level position, bringing a list of references to an interview may help you secure that dream job.
This article provides some tips on dealing with the many aspects of references.

First impressions are key. 

The reference list should be on its own page, free of spelling/grammatical errors and include each reference's full name, position, company, email address, phone number and the dates you reported to them.

Up-to-date contacts

If you have not spoken to potential references for a while, double check the accuracy of their contact information. Ensure e-mail addresses and phone numbers are current so that there are no roadblocks to the reference-checking process. Out of date information can frustrate employers and leave a negative impression of you.

Request permission

Always ask your references for permission before including their names on your reference sheet. Provide details about the position you are applying for, the skills and qualifications you possess that qualify you for the job, what companies might be calling, the types of questions they could ask, and the reason you are asking them to be a reference.

Plan ahead

It's important to get your references in order when looking for a new position - well before you need them. If you wait until an offer is conditional on references being completed before contacting them, you may be out of luck and the offer compromised, if they have moved or are difficult to reach.

When you do make contact, request a letter so that you have something concrete to provide to prospective employers. Networking with your references periodically, even if it's just to say hello, is recommended from both a social and career perspective.

Seek good references

Think of people who have known you for a long time and can attest to your skills, qualifications and experiences. Remember that good references who can talk about your capabilities can dramatically increase your chances of you securing a job offer.

Bad references 

If you're in a situation where you're certain a reference is not going to provide positive feedback about you to the employer, make sure you communicate the reasons why to the prospective employer. Explaining the situation, the context, and what you learned from it, may help you look pro-active and better in the eyes of the employers. This is better than them hearing negative-speak from the reference provider.
Not getting a job because of a bad reference is a difficult situation, but if this occurs try to find out as much as possible from either the prospective employer or the person providing the reference. You'll definitely want to re-consider providing that reference again in the future.

Strive for variety

Asking various individuals to act as references will reflect your work and personality. Besides asking your former direct managers, ask co-workers, indirect managers, direct and/or indirect reports, as well as customers or clients. If you are just starting out in the workforce, make sure to ask current and former professors for a reference. Tip: It's always good to state your relationship with the person in the reference list.

Get credible references 

Recruiters may become suspicious if you limit references to only co-workers and friends and don't provide names of direct managers that you reported to. It'll work in your favour to secure references from people in senior positions since these titles carry additional credibility.

Company reference policy

Look into whether your previous employer is permitted to provide references. Due to concerns about litigation, some employers will only provide references with your job title and dates of employment and little more. If this happens, think about other employers that you can approach, including managers that have left the company.

Multiple references

It is standard to have three references to reflect what different individuals have to say about you. Having only one reference may imply to an employer that you have something to hide.

No references available 

There may be situations where you can't easily get references because the people in those positions are not around. However, with the availability of powerful search tools like Google and LinkedIn, often individuals can be tracked down quite quickly. Be sure to utilize these tools.

Bring documents to the interview

Providing your references at the first interview, even if they are not asked for them, shows that you are serious about a move and that you prepared yourself well in advance of the meeting. Other documents such as performance reviews and portfolios are also recommended - and they help differentiate you from the other candidates.

Requesting permission

A prospective employer should ask permission to contact your references. This is especially important if you are employed - you do not want to surprise your current employer with this type of phone call. Have alternative references available if you're not comfortable with the idea of your current employer being contacted. Generally, recruiters and employers know not to contact references, especially current ones, without your approval.

Say thank you

When asking for a reference, always be sure to thank them for their time and consideration. Whether it is in writing as a thank you note or giving a small gift, you can be sure that your thoughtful gesture will be remembered and they'll be more than happy to refer you in the future.


Staying in contact with your references about your job hunt is important and keep them in the loop about the progress of your job search. Finally, be careful not to burn bridges with employers since, at some point, a bad reference may come back to haunt you.

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