Deciding your referees and handling the process

A reference list is a great thing to have. And who better to recommend you than those who can speak well of your work! Start thinking today about who you could list on your reference list. If you can’t think of individuals to list, it’s time to get out there and start making connections. Keep in mind that a reference check is now a natural conclusion to an interview process.

You know you’re nearing the final stretch of an interview process when a potential employer or recruiter asks these two questions:

  1. When would you be available to start? (Or, how much notice do you need to give your current employer?)
  2. Will you please provide us with a list of professional references we may contact?

Even for the strongest of candidates, if you’re not prepared to respond swiftly with names, titles, the nature of the relationship, and current contact information for however many people with whom they’d like to speak, this could be an issue.

Don’t get caught in scramble mode at this stage of the game. Your prompt response and the quality of your references can be the difference in securing the job or being rejected at the final post.


Who Should I List (or Not List) as a Reference?

Generally speaking, your future employer or recruiter will want to talk with the following people, in order of importance (depending on your role):

  1. Your current manager or supervisor
  2. Your prior managers or supervisors
  3. Your current peers or clients (if you’re interviewing for a client-facing role).
  4. Your personal references or friends who will vouch for your character (reserve this one for only those times you have few other options, and make sure to ask if it’s OK to include personal references before you do so).

Never (ever) include relatives, unless you happen to work directly for, or with, one. Oh, and absolutely don’t ever give a fake name and then commission your buddy to “pretend” to be your employer or peer. Recruiters are not stupid. Treat them so at your own peril.

Keep in mind that the primary reason why potential employers want to check your references is because they want a third party to vouch for your on-the-job performance and character. You can tout your greatness all day long in the interview, but it truly gels for decision makers when others tout it for you.

When looking for a new job, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend hours poring over every bullet point on your résumé, and spend even more time writing and rewriting your cover letter.

But how much time do you spend prepping your list of references?

Make sure you place time and important on to this as otherwise this could let you know at the last hurdle.

A glowing reference could be what gives job hunters the edge they need to shine over the competition, especially in today’s corporate culture where there’s a lot at stake if you hire a poor fit.


How can you ensure that your references will actually help you get the job and make sure you’re not burning any bridges with them along the way?

1. Choose people with whom you’re friendly but not too friendly.

With social media taking a larger role in the background-checking process, hiring managers aren’t just looking at your profile–they may also be digging into your references’ online personas to make sure they are reputable.

So you might not want to pick referees who you have a professional relation with, not a personal one. After all, your prospective employer doesn’t want biased feedback from a reference who appears to be a close friend.

Think carefully before selecting a reference.

When choosing your references, think about the type of reference you’re looking for. Do you want someone who can speak highly of your work ethic? Do you want someone who can illustrate your personality to employers? When selecting a reference, you want someone who can speak highly of you as a professional, so make sure you choose the best reference for the position you’ve applied for.

The most effective references are those who’ve had the opportunity to experience your personality and witness your accomplishments first-hand. Don’t feel like you need to have a former boss to serve as a reference. You can ask a mentor, previous co-worker, or professional colleague. Just remember, the people you’ve interacted closely through professional relationships are more likely to give you an accurate reference.

2. Keep references professional

It’s better to list professional references rather than personal references. When you’re looking for a job, especially at senior level a future employer is going to want to speak about your professional skills and capability which a personal referee is not necessary going to be able to help with.

3. Ask for referee directly

Email is a perfectly acceptable form of professional communication in most cases, but when it comes to asking someone to be a reference, do it in person if you can, or at least over the phone. At the end of the day you can then express the need for your help and support, this way you can get your referee on board fully.

Be prepared. Make a list of 6 people you’re likely to ask to be a reference now, while you’re still in your current job, then reach out to them to see if they are prepared to act as referee for you. This is also a great way to continue building your professional relationship with that individual.

When you speak to them it’s a great opportunity to review your past responsibilities and remind that person of the successes you achieved when you worked together. Dependant on the reception you get will also will gauge whether or not the reference will be glowing. This will also depend on how high you put them up the reference list as most recruiters and employers will ask for 3-4 referees. You want to be able to give them a varied strong cross section of referees.

4. Consider your referees time.

Just the way you wouldn’t want to keep calling you old boss every five minutes, you don’t want to overwhelm your references with repeated requests from employers and recruiters. Work of thumb is that you only use them 3 times in a 12-month period.

Giving references is time consuming and you don’t want your referees to be bombarded every 5 minutes with requests as this could reduce the quality of the reference and time they give to provide it.

5. Give your referee warning and as much information as possible

As an active job seeker, it’s essential to keep your referees informed during your job search. Nobody wants to be requested to give a reference when they least expect it. Give you referee as much warning as possible. It’s always good practice to tell them when they are about to be contacted and by whom so they can look out for this communication.

Give your referee as many details as you can, including the type of position you’re applying for, who it’s with, etc. Tell them how they will be contacted, whether it be by phone or email.

With your prospective employer, find out whether they will be calling your referee direct or sending an electronic reference request. This is what most do nowadays as it’s the referees words not an interpretation of what they said. Employers and recruiters should use a professional company email address – an email from may not even be Bob Smith.

Your referee might prefer a quick phone call if they “do not have the time to fill in a form”. If that’s the case, make sure you advise the recruiter or prospective employer accordingly.

6. Your referee list

When you submit you reference list to the recruiter or future prospective employ, make sure they know:

  • The name and their current position,
  • Where you worked for them and their position held during this time.
  • Their direct contact number and professional email address

We also suggest this information is not placed on your resume as you can then make sure the information is accurate and correct.

Keep the formatting on your reference list similar to the format of your resume - you want these two documents to look like they go together. Keep this document to one page in length, and list your references in order of who knows you best – not in alphabetical order. Employers usually start at the top of the list when making calls, so be sure your strongest references are listed at the top.

7. Distribute your reference list

As a rule of thumb, traditionally you don’t give a reference list to an employer unless they ask you for it. So, at the bottom of your resume put “References Available Upon Request,” to let employers know that you’ve thought ahead and are prepared. Be sure to have your list available on the day of your interview just in case that information is requested.

6. Thank your referees for their help

As you would normally thank your hiring manager for the time at their interview it’s also good practise for you to thank you referee for their help and support and their endorsement of you. The offer of lunch or just a coffee goes a long way with referees when you are job hunting as a way of thanking them.

These are a few of the most important rules to follow when choosing the best referees for your job search. By maintaining a positive relationship with your referees, they’ll be able to give you more glowing recommendations in the future.