3 Rules of Job References

Employers often want a few professional references from you during the interview process. As you interview for jobs, you’ll want to gather your list of references to have them ready. But there are a few things to consider as you do this.

What are references?

Employers will want to hear from others who have worked with you to learn more about your work ethic, work habits, personality and experience. 

The most common types of references that job candidates provide are:

  • Professional – people who have worked with you in a professional setting and can speak about your skills and experience.
  • Character – people who know you personally and can speak about your personality or demeanor.

If you are a new grad without much work experience, you could also provide academic references. These would be former instructors who are familiar with you and your studies who can speak about your commitment to your work and the quality of your work. 

When do you need to provide them?

You do not need to provide references with your resume. You also do not need to list “references available upon request.” 

If employers desire to check your references, they will request them later, usually after a round or two of interviews. Most companies only check references of job candidates when they plan to move forward with them either to another round of interviews or to a job offer.

Who should you ask?

Choosing your references is a very important decision. You want people who will portray you and your work experience in the best possible way. Most employers ask for two or three, so go ahead and identify three people you want to ask.

Keep these three things in mind as you decide who to ask to be a job reference for you.

  1. Choose people who will have good things to say about you.

If things with a former boss did not end well, you may not want to list them as a reference. Note that you may be required to list them on an application, but those often ask if it is okay to contact them. Instead, you want to be sure the references you choose will say very positive things about your work.

  1. Keep your references professional.

While some employers may accept personal or character references, most prefer someone who has worked with you in a professional setting. Volunteer roles are okay also, but you want to avoid using family or close friends if they have not worked with you professionally. 

  1. Be sure to ask them ahead of time. It can be difficult to be a reference for someone if you get a call from an employer out of the blue. You want your references to be expecting calls from employers. Let your contacts know you’d like to use them as a reference, even if you have used them before in previous job searches. 

It is also helpful to share with them what the job is that you are seeking and mention the aspects about you they could most likely comment on. Share your career goals anas well as specific companies that may call them. You want them to understand the role you are seeking and how your skills fit. You may also want to remind them of the work you performed or the projects you completed for them–especially if it has been a while since you worked together.

How do you format them?

Once you have identified your references, you want to create a one-page document that neatly lists each one along with contact information. 

Typically, you should provide the following information:

  • Name
  • Title / Position
  • Company
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Relationship – Describe how this person knows you. Are they a former co-worker or former supervisor?

Bonus Tip:

When you ask your contacts to be a reference, you may also want to ask for a LinkedIn recommendation. If you are on LinkedIn (and you should be!) this is a great way to collect and display some “evergreen” references to employers. They are online, easily accessed and always available.

Published by Career Coach Belinda

I’ve helped job seekers of all ages and career levels develop résumés, craft cover letters, and approach job interviews with confidence.

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