References Can Make or Break Your Chances of Getting a Job – Ensure Yours are Positive!


During a job search it is important to be prepared to provide a list of references, should a potential employer make the request. Avoid a last minute scramble by gathering your references as soon as possible. The following will help you compile, vet and prepare a solid list of references to use during your job search.

5 Tips to Build and Maintain a Great Reference List

1. Compile a List of Potential References

Potential employers use references as a way to garner a better idea of your job performance and character. It’s important to be exceptionally careful about who you ask to speak on your behalf. After all, these individuals can make your break your chances of getting a job offer!

Questions such as the following can help you compile a solid list of references:

  • How do you know this individual?
  • What was/is your relationship to them?
  • How does this individual perceive you?
  • Am I currently working with this individual (if currently employed)?
  • What type of reference is this individual (professional vs. personal)?
  • How strong of a reference is this individual (e.g. former supervisor vs. colleague)?

2. Confirm them as a Positive Reference

Don’t just ask if someone will be a reference for you during a job search, confirm they will recommend you to a potential employer. If they say no, don’t use them. Keep in mind, there is still the chance that a reference will say something (often unintentionally) that will hurt your odds of getting a job. However, most people will not go out of their way to hinder your job search without good cause.

Once you know that you would like to use them as a reference, confirm their contact information and preferences, such as:

  • Current title
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Preferred method of contact
  • Ideal days / times for a potential employer to contact them

If someone is unwilling or unable to be a reference during your job search, but they would recommend you to a potential employer, ask if they would do you the favor of writing the recommendation down. This can be done via a letter of recommendation or a LinkedIn recommendation. While a letter of recommendation is more formal, a LinkedIn recommendation can be viewed by anyone who can see your full profile. As many recruiters and hiring managers refer to LinkedIn when sourcing and screening candidates, a solid recommendation can go a long way.

3. Prepare References Ahead of Time

The best way to ensure that you references provide optimal feedback is to prepare them ahead of time. Brief them on what you have been doing since you last spoke, the type(s) of jobs you are looking for and send them your updated resume and a link to your LinkedIn profile.

After a specific employer requests a list of recommendations, make sure to let your contacts know that they should expect to be contacted by so-and-so at Company X within Y number of days. Prepare them with details about the job, any skills or previous experience that pertains to this job that you may want them to highlight and any topics you would like to avoid or downplay if possible.

4. Thank Your References

Regardless of the outcome, your references went out of their way and tried to help you. Thank them! A small gesture such as a thank you note or gift card to their favorite coffee shop would be appreciated. If you do get a job offer, let them know! Consider showing your appreciation by taking them out for lunch / dinner or giving them gift such as a bottle of wine or a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

5. Keep in Touch with References

Periodically reach out to your references, even after your job search is over. It doesn’t need to be about anything in particular, just a check-in. Letting someone know that you were thinking about them is often enough to remind them that you are a thoughtful individual (and that you did not simply use them for a reference). Plus, you may want their help again down the road.

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