Just like a strong résumé, cover letter and Linkedin can help you land the interview, favourable professional references can help you land the job.

But all it takes is one blemished reference to prevent you from getting the position, despite whatever awesome credentials and impressive career progression you might have.

That’s how much impact your references can have on your career success.

This is why you want to make sure that you’ve got all of your references in order at the beginning of your job search to ensure that you have a good “pool” to choose from.

There’s nothing worse than scrambling at the 11th hour to secure that one reference that could tip the scales in your favour.

#1:  Who You Should Contact For References

The types of references you will be asked for will depend on the kinds of positions you are interviewing for, what the industries are, and what (you think) the employer wants.

The problem is, you won’t necessarily know exactly what kind of references the employer requires.

This is why getting as many references as you can from a wide variety of people is the best strategy. This increases your chances of having the “right” references on standby to ensure that the process moves forward.

As soon as you know you’re on the search for a new opportunity, you should contact everyone with whom you had a good working relationship because invariably, it will take some time to get a hold of people.

#2:  Give Employers What They Want

In my experience, most employers want at least three references. They like to see at least one or two from someone YOU reported to, like your direct manager/supervisor. These are individuals who would be able to speak about the quality of your work, willingness to be coached, interpersonal skills, attendance record, among other things.

The other one or two references will depend on the kind of position you are interviewing for.  If it’s a leadership position, you will need references from people you supervised or led in some way.  If it’s a sales or customer service type of role, then a client reference is suitable. If it’s a purchasing job, then references from vendors might be needed.

#3:  Who Are The Best “Referees”

A referee is someone who provides a reference. The best referees are good communicators who are forthcoming with information and able to discuss with some detail and enthusiasm, the quality of your work.

A reference from someone who can’t articulate well, is vague, unenthusiastic, and not communicative will likely not be acceptable and this could hurt your chances. Not all employers will wait for you to provide an alternate reference. With all things begin equal, they might just go with the other candidate who has a “better reference”.

#4:  How Far Back Should You Go

In most cases, employers want to see more recent references but you might need to go back quite a few years to get them what they want or to provide enough quality references.

The father back you go, the more you will have to prep the referees so there’s less chance they’ll say they “can’t remember” when asked a question.

#5:  Asking For References

Obviously, you want to be sure that the people you use as references are going to provide you with positive ones. So start with these people and phone them.  It’s more personable and you can give them some details regarding your job search which will help them determine if they would be able to give you a strong endorsement.

If you have some people you want to contact but aren’t sure if they will provide a good reference, it might be better to email them.  That way, they can decline gracefully and it won’t make for an awkward phone call.

Here are some ways you can ask for a reference:  “Would you be willing to give me a positive reference?” or “Would you feel comfortable giving me a favourable reference?”  or “Are you familiar enough with my quality of work to be able to give me a good reference?”

Remember that whoever you contact is not obligated to give you a reference so you need to adequately express how much you appreciate their help.

#6:  Getting Permission Is A Must

Your references are confidential in nature and should be treated as such. Always get permission from the referees to give out their names and contact information.

The general rule of thumb is to not include your references on your résumé or cover letter because you don’t want people contacting the referees before you’ve had a chance to prep them.

For information on what is involved with prepping the referees, keep reading!

#7:  Collecting The Information

Once you’ve received permission from people to use them as references, make sure that the information you give the employer is accurate and meets the approval of the referees. You don’t want to give information to the employer that is different from what the referees provide when asked by the employer.

The referees’ information that you want to make sure is complete, accurate, and consistent is as follows:

  • Their first and last names (their names may have changed since you worked together)
  • Their job titles when you worked together
  • What your working relationship was (were they your superior, your subordinate, a client, vendor, etc.)
  • The name of your employer during the time you collaborated with them
  • Their preferred phone numbers and email addresses


#8:  Get Written References

According to industry experts, about 87% of employers and recruiters check out candidates on Linkedin. When you ask for references, see if you can get them in writing and if the referees will be willing to let you add them to your Linkedin profile under the “Recommendations” section.

There might be times when it’s appropriate to send written references along with your résumé but they need to be relevant for the position you are applying for.  Also, you really should get permission from your references to do this, because the employer or recruiter might contact them out of the blue.

#9:  When To Give Out Your References (Or Not)

In the best case scenario, references are not conducted until an offer is presented in writing with the offer being contingent on good references. However, sometimes they are required in order to present an offer or might be requested even earlier than that.

It’s best that the referees are not contacted unless there’s good reason for it. That’s why I recommend that you do not give your references to anyone unless they have asked for them and you have a written offer in hand.

If you are asked for references early in the process, you could diplomatically let the employer know that you will be happy to provide them once you have completed all of the interviews but this could annoy them and they might disqualify you as a result.  You will  have to use your best judgment in these situations.

#10:  “Prepping” Your References

It’s not enough to have someone provide you with a positive reference – you should prep all of the referees before the employer contacts them.

You and the referees need to be on the same page regarding the information so that there’s no discrepancy between what you’ve told the employer and what the referees say.  A lack of consistency in the responses can be perceived as a red flag and you could be disqualified.

You should provide all of the referees with a recent copy of your résumé. This will help jog their memory, particularly if many years have passed since you worked together.  You could also give them a list of your accomplishments if these are things they can confirm and elaborate on.

Once you know who you are interviewing with, send your referees the job description which will help them understand the duties and responsibilities so that they can frame their responses accordingly.

Show Your Gratitude!

Definitely let the referees know when you get the job and send them a personalized thank you letter for providing you with a positive reference that helped your candidacy for the position.  If you feel so inclined, you could send a small gift as a token of your appreciation.  In any event, you want to make sure that they know how much you appreciate their help.

Hi!  I’m Diana.

I leverage over 10 years recruitment and sales/marketing experience to create attention-grabbing résumés, cover letters, and Linkedin profiles that help job seekers stand out, get noticed, and get hired.

You can learn more about my story here and about how I can help you here.

Need help? That’s what I’m here for!

Are you in the midst of a job search and not getting the results you want?

Are you’re thinking of making a change and want to put your best foot forward but aren’t sure how and are reluctant to get started?

Then I recommend you reach out for some help. You can contact me directly here!

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