Effectively Providing Job References to an Employer

providing job references

At some point in the interview process, you will need to provide references. By this time, things are getting serious. Generally you are not asked to submit references until the employer is near the hiring decision and you have made it through most of the gauntlet.

The last thing you want to do is submit names without notifying those contacts that you are using them as a reference. If you don’t notify your references, they’ll be ambushed by someone contacting them…Awkward. They won’t know what the role is, how you might or might not be good at it, or even your level of desire for the role.

The other thing you don’t want to do is ask someone to serve as a reference who doesn’t really know you or who doesn’t know of your accomplishments. You want references that are notable and ones who have witnessed you doing noteworthy things.

For those reading this that are not in the interviewing process yet, you should be building those kinds of references now.

Hopefully you are contacting them in advance, giving them an update as to where you are in your search, why you are interested in this role, and maybe seek their advice about and opinion of the opportunity. If they are qualified to be a reference, they know enough about you, your abilities, and your experiences that they can lend counsel to you regarding the “fit” of this opportunity.

Job References To-Do List:

  • Submit references when you are asked. Do not provide them by your own initiative with your resume.
  • It is best to have 3-5 contacts who would serve as great and credible references.

Family and friends are not credible references. Instead, submit people that you have worked closely with. This list could include:

  • Supervisors
  • Teammates
  • Professors
  • Faculty advisors or student leaders in campus associations and groups
  • Community leaders who you have had contact with
  • Submit your strongest reference first on the list

When asked to submit a list of references, you should include their:

  • Contact information
  • Job title
  • Business address (where they are based)
  • Email
  • Phone
  • How you know them
  • A project or accomplishment that you worked on together

How to Prepare Your Job References

  • Let your references know about the role you are seeking and try to position yourself in their eyes as being exceptional for that opportunity.
  • Ask your contact list if it would be okay to use them as a reference, and be sensitive to their schedules. If they are buried with other priorities, let them go. They just might be signaling that they are not comfortable referencing you. Letting them go is better than a bad or shaky reference.
  • Send them a copy of your resume, a point or two of what you did with them or within their organization (to keep how your are positioning things on the top of their minds), and a summary of the job you are going after. This will make it easy for them to do a great job on your behalf.
  • Then, and only then, use them as a reference.

If you do this, you will get much better results.

IMPORTANT: If it’s a stretch to get great references, and you find yourself asking people that do not really know you or who have not witnessed greatness from you, you have another problem. Work on solving this, as in, work on being great in the eyes of notable people.

Once someone agrees to become a reference for you, keep them in the loop in regards to how things are proceeding. They might be or may not be contacted, but you don’t want your request for assistance to go into a black hole. Keep them informed.

One last thing, when someone serves as a reference, you become closer to them in the process. You engage in a dialog, before, during and after the reference-checking process. With that, they naturally have a vested interest in your success and future, and they become a stronger contact in your personal network.

Don’t forget to keep them informed about your search outcome and to say “thank you.”

was created by Alan J. McMillan, a former high technology executive with over 30 years of professional experience. While teaching a college seminar about transitioning out of school, he realized most students are not taught how to find a job. He created LearnEarnRetire to educate students about the career search.


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