Job References: What Job Seekers Need to Know

job references

You got the interview, and you’re perfect for the job. The only thing you need are references. But then you think…maybe they won’t ask. Or if they do, maybe they won’t call them.

Think again. Today’s job seekers can bank on the fact that a prospective employer will request references – and call them. In fact, job references can make or break a hiring decision. Employers want to know if a candidate is dependable, if they work hard, and if they have the skills they say they do. References provide this missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to deciding if a candidate is worth investing in. Preparing a Job References List is an important step on the road to landing the job you want.


Job References

I know I need a Job References List – what are the basics?

Job references confirm your ability to do the job and verify that your work record is solid. Your list should consist of people you have worked with who are willing to speak about your past performance. Prepare your list with the reference’s name, their company or organization, current phone number, and email address. You can add a line about your relationship as well, such as, “John Smith was my supervisor.”

In most cases, references are provided after an interview. It’s best to have a list prepared and printed if you are scheduled to have an interview – not providing your list at this time only delays the hiring process. If the interviewer doesn’t ask for references, offer to provide them.

Oops! Even a small misstep such as including outdated contact information can put a qualified candidate back in the slush pile. It’s your responsibility to help the interviewer make contact with your references quickly. Make sure you’ve contacted each reference to make sure the information is accurate.


Who do I put on my List?

Job references should be work-related, not personal. Friends, roommates, and relatives are not reference material – instead, consider past employers, supervisors, teachers, community leaders, or someone with whom you have done volunteer work. Choose someone who can speak to your experience or skills. Do you have a coach, faculty adviser, or teacher? They’ll be able to speak to your character and your work habits. If you are looking for a job while already employed and you’d rather your current employer not be contacted, just let the interviewer know – they’ll understand.

Oops! Sure, your Aunt Sally thinks you’re perfect. But don’t use a relative as a reference. When a prospective employer calls – and they will – you won’t make points for professionalism.


What will they ask?

According to job placement specialists at Bonney Staffing, hiring managers tend to call references to find out what a job seeker’s duties were in a past job, and to confirm job titles and dates of employment. Questions about strengths, weaknesses, initiative, and dependability often come up as well, as do general questions that allow the employer to get a sense of what a candidate is like.

How can you make sure you are getting a good reference? Give your references a copy of your resume. Tell them about the position you are interested in and why you want it. Remind them of some of the skills you’ve gained from past jobs and why they would be helpful in this position. Finally, ask them how they would respond to questions about your previous work, and tell them to be honest.

Oops! It happens: you have left an employment experience on “bad terms”. Keep in mind that an employer can call anyone on your resume, even if they aren’t on your References List. It’s always best to provide the interviewer with information about what happened without being negative or placing blame. Claim responsibility where warranted, indicate any learning that came from the experience, and above all, be honest.


I have someone in mind – do I have to ask them first?

Definitely. You’ll need to make sure they are willing and able to provide a strong reference, and you’ll need permission to give out their contact information. Take your reference for coffee and explain your request, or call them if you can’t meet in person. Confirm their contact information as well. And don’t forget to thank them for their efforts when the process is over – you might need them again.

Oops! “You’re calling about who?” Remember that a reference who isn’t enthusiastic or may have a difficult time remembering your accomplishments is not a good reference. Choose someone eager to speak on your behalf and happy to offer up the many characteristics that make you a great employee.


Download a Reference Worksheet and other helpful resources at the Bonney Staffing Job Search & Career Support Center.

Good References – for the Long Haul

References are an important part of your job search. But when you are new to the job market or you have gaps in your job experience, it can be difficult to create a list of people who can speak to your work experience and skills.

Remember that strong references are a long-term investment, and they can take time to cultivate. At your current job, at school, or while you are volunteering, set the foundation by showing off your skills. Be proactive about taking on projects or making improvements. It will help you get noticed. Also, keep mentors and colleagues in the loop – they’ll be more willing to serve as a reference when you need them.


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