How To Choose Your References

By Christine Chelstrom, Job Developer


References are a powerful tool to help you land a job – but choose them wisely. A strong endorsement from the right reference can convince an employer that you have the skills and experience to excel at the job. On the other hand, a less-than-enthusiastic reference can knock you off the employer’s list of candidates.


There are two basic types of references: professional and personal. A personal reference, also known as a character reference, is from someone who knows you outside of work, perhaps a friend or neighbor. This should not be confused with a professional reference from a former or current employer, a supervisor or manager, a client or vendor, a professor or mentor. If given a choice, professional references carry more weight than personal references.


Never list anyone as a reference without asking their permission. They will have better answers prepared if they are not caught off guard when a call or email comes their way. The best references are from people who have worked closely with you. Provide them with your résumé and the job description. Coach them to talk about how your personal qualities will benefit the employer. Those qualities could include things like dedication, communication skills, leadership abilities, positive attitude, etc. Finally, keep your references informed during your job search.


Many companies restrict managers from providing references, due to fear of litigation. If that is the case, find someone else within the company, maybe a co-worker, client, or vendor who can speak about your job duties and work ethic. If you did not get along with your supervisor, find another manager who could speak of your talents, or select a co-worker, client, or vendor instead. If you are entering the workforce as a new graduate, draw references from professors, advisors, internships, and former employers, even if not within the industry you are pursuing.


Your reference page is separate from your résumé and should be formatted using the same heading to create a visual brand. Privacy is often a concern for references, so keep your reference list separate from your résumé and submit it only when requested. By doing so, you will give comfort to your references by being selective when sharing their personal information. This is an important practice if you post résumés on job platforms, like CareerBuilder or LinkedIn, for all to see.


Your reference list should include 3-5 contacts and be formatted to include their name, job title, company name, city/state, phone (work and/or cell), email, and a LinkedIn URL. If you have more references to choose from, select them strategically based on the position you seek. Some job seekers list both professional and personal references on the same page.


As a job seeker, you have control over what information is pitched to employers. Select your references carefully. Always remember, you are worthy of a great life and career. Never give up your dreams!

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