Selecting and Executing References


No matter what your field—from food service to engineering, marketing to retail—one thing that is consistent over most hiring processes is reference checking, which is great! This is your chance to have others vouch for your great professional skills, work ethic, attitude, etc…and YOU get to choose your references. What could be better? Talk about a stacked deck.

However, before you start picking your references and practicing “their” voices, here are a few suggestions for selecting and executing references that will reflect upon you positively and help you get HIRED.

Choose strong references

Here are a few rules of thumb to consider when selecting your references:

  • Make them relevant – Choose people that you interact with often in professional situations and who have knowledge of what it is that you actually do. Choosing co-workers that are also friends is tempting, but if they have little knowledge of your position and your effectiveness doing it, they can’t provide the type of information a potential employer will be looking for.
  • Make them current – It’s wonderful that you still have contacts from 15 years ago. It shows great relationship building skills…but it’s not very helpful for information on your current skill-set. These don’t necessarily have to be people that you are currently working with, but consider whether or not the person has up to date information before submitting them.
  • Make them diverse – Instead of choosing all co-workers/managers that hold similar positions, choose project partners, clients, or a cross-functional manager in addition to your direct manager. The key is to choose references that can show your strong skill-set over a variety of situations/circumstances.
  • Over-prepare – Make sure you select enough people up front so you won’t have to clamor at the last minute to find an additional reference. Commonly companies will check three references, but some check up to five. Most companies also require at least one managerial reference, but some require two. Note: If you’re a student or recent grad, your professors and leaders of major projects you’ve undertaken (volunteer work, etc.) make great managerial references.

Connect with your references before you interview

Now that you’ve got a great list of people that will sing your praises, prepare them to do so. Call them and let them know you’re interviewing and that there’s a good possibility they’ll be called on as a reference. This not only confirms that you have their correct contact information and ensures that they’ll be available for the phone call or e-mail that will soon follow, but can also speed the reference checking process along since your references will be expecting the contact.

Prepare a reference sheet

Most employers ask for references on the in-person interview date so they can begin checking references right away if it’s a good interview. Your best bet is to prepare a printed reference sheet. You’ll want to have the following information for each reference:

Phone Number
E-mail Address
Your professional relationship to that person (i.e. Former Manager, XYZ Company)


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