​A Guide to Providing References

When it comes to applying for a job, you'll be most likely asked to provide a reference. Selecting the right people to use as a reference can be quite difficult-you need to ensure that they can put in a good word for you with the hiring manager. Otherwise, they could end up jeopardizing your chances of being shortlisted for the job. The correct reference that provides a strong recommendation for you can be the primary factor that convinces an employer to hire you.

After spending so much time perfecting your resume and practicing your answers for potential interview questions, the last thing you want is for a less-than-enthusiastic reference to knock you off an employer's list of qualified candidates. That said, although you can't control what a reference says about you, you can undoubtedly handpick the people you use as a reference. In this guide, we show you ten tips for compiling a substantial reference list to use in your job application.

Don't include references on your resume

References should only be supplied upon request, not before. This means that you should not send your references along with your resume unless the job announcement specifically asks for it. You're going to need every inch of space on your resume for critical pieces of personal information such as knowledge, skills, education, and background, so don't waste any valuable real estate on information that employers don't usually require upfront. Nevertheless, you should always have your list ready.

Who should you ask for interview references?

People who have been relatively close to you growing up and those you have a positive relationship with are the best references to use. This might be a former colleague, neighbor, or family acquaintance. Although you can use practically anybody as a reference (except relatives, as they are believed to be biased), it can help if you choose individuals who hold a trusted position in a company or community, such as a manager, council member, police officer, or sports coach.

Who shouldn't you ask?

A reference should never be a relative. This is because a personal reference needs to be as impartial and objective as possible under the circumstances. Clearly, your direct family members have an interest in furthering your career, which can make their testimonials skew in your favor. Additionally, people you barely know should never be used as a reference. Although they may be willing to give a positive assertion, their lack of personal knowledge can be an obstacle, especially when they're asked how well you know each other. This gamble could come back to haunt you later, making it a risk that's not worth taking.

And of course, it's a given that you should never have people who dislike you as a reference.

Vary your interview references

The goal is to have different references who know you in various capacities, so avoid listing recommendations from the same company or organization unless there's just no one else. Look for a mixture of people of varying background who have a genuinely positive impression of you as a person. Preferably, they should have trustworthy credentials and can convey your reference efficiently. By varying your references, you let a potential employer see you not only as a great potential hire but as a well-rounded person as well.

Ask before listing

Though it sounds like common sense, too many people create their reference list and submit them without actually letting the referees know beforehand. Observe courtesy and make sure to ask people for permission before listing them as a reference. Otherwise, when HR personnel surprises them with a call asking about you, their answers may not be well-thought-out, or worse, they may not reply favorably. Likewise, while most people will be more than happy to oblige, some will refuse, and it would be wrong to force them to.

Prepare your references beforehand

When asking permission, let your potential references know that they may be asked about your personal details such as your skills, work ethics, familial relationships, values, ability to work with others, etc. Let them know that it is up to them to decide how to answer, but it would be great if they can speak positively about you. If they're not comfortable doing so, give them an easy way to decline, such as saying, "I completely understand if you don't want me to have you as my reference."

It can help to supply your referees a copy of your current resume so they can know something about the job you're applying for. This way, they can formulate their answers to make it relevant to the job description.

Provide complete details of your references

You will need to supply hiring managers with all the details they need for them to consider a recommendation as valid. These details should include full name of the referee, their work title at the company/agency/organization they work for, the name and address of the company/agency/organization, the referee's contact number, their email address, your professional relationship with them, and their preferred time of day for calling/contacting. Below is an example of what a reference listing should look like.

William Joseph Jones, Web Developer

Red Button Marketing

Alpharetta, GA

(602) 777-7777


relationship: former supervisor

Contact hours: 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Internal references are your best friends

If you know anyone in the company you're applying to, and you think they can help win over your potential employer, then make sure to ask them if they would be willing to be one of your references. If you're not that close, you can still use them as a reference as long as you indicate in your relationship that they are simply a personal acquaintance. Even if you don't have much of work history with them, they can still have a high impact on your hiring chances because of their position.

Send your referees a thank you email

After they agree, send your referees a thank you email. Showing them gratitude can make a huge difference, both in the way they represent you as well as their ability to help you achieve positive results. A thank you email is also an excellent way to remind them that they agreed to be your reference in case they forget.

Pay it forward

When you're lining up employment references, it pays to pay it forward. Make sure to offer your willingness to provide a reference to the people who agreed to give you one. Even a manager can benefit from an employee recommendation.

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