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How to Craft a List of References that Will Get You Hired

Posted by: Emma Berdanier on March 31st, 2020

Reference checks are an important part of the interview process. They’re often the final step that either seals the deal or ends your chances. Having a strong list of people who can vouch for you is necessary for finding a job. When a potential employer asks for this list, you shouldn’t be scrambling to put one together. It should be something you already have on hand that you’re continuously updating.

But how do you choose who to list? And when should you present your list?

Picking the Right People to Vouch for You

Ideally, you should have three to five references who can vouch for your performance, dedication, and personality. Begin with your most recent position and go down from there. These should be people you’ve kept in touch with who you’ve worked with recently.

You should also have worked with these people for long periods. That way they can vouch not only for the quality of your work but for your loyalty and consistency.

Past supervisor references are the most important people to have on your list. They’re more important than co-workers, as they can give better insight into your performance. If you’re at a managerial level, then it’s good to have references from supervisors, equals/peers, and subordinates. Each of these people will be able to present examples of different qualifications you have.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for many years, you can still craft a strong list of references. Instead of references from past employment, use people you’ve interacted with recently in professional settings. These could be PTA members, professors from reskilling courses you’ve taken, or members of volunteer organizations you’ve participated in.

Similarly, students entering the workforce should look to campus advisors for references. The director of an internship program you participated in or a former professor are good places to start. Even if they aren’t from paid positions, an endorsement from these people still carries weight.

Every reference you list, whether they’re from past employment or another organization, should be able to vouch for you. You want people who will highlight your skills, work ethic, leadership abilities, and industry knowledge.

General Etiquette When Approaching References

Never list a reference who you have not spoken to first. You need to ask permission to use someone as a reference. Without doing this, the reference won’t be prepared for the call from your potential employer and may not give the most favorable endorsement.

When you ask them if you can use them as a reference, be sure to tell them about the company you’ve applied to and the role you’re seeking. You should also give them specific information about the person who will be calling them. They’ll need to know their name and position within the company.

Have a good conversation with your reference first to gauge whether or not they’ll be a good resource. If it doesn’t seem like they’ll give you a glowing endorsement, leave them off your list. It’s better to have an older reference or even a shorter list than to give a reference who won’t vouch well for you.

What You Need for Your List

You could be asked for a list of references at any point during the interview process. It’s best not to include references on your resume, but instead to create a separate document. This document should be well-formatted and continuously updated, just like your resume.

On this list, be sure to include their name, position, contact information and where they work. Include both an email address and a phone number. It’s also important to add a postscript under their name explaining your relationship with them (i.e. supervisor, co-worker, subordinate/direct report). This will give the hiring manager some insight into what questions to ask when they call them.

References are a necessary part of a job search. Ensuring you have a solid list of references who will represent you accurately and well can greatly help you in landing your next role.


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