Tips for Selecting Quality References.

In addition to building a strong resume and conducting an engaging interview, a critical component to applying and being selected for a competitive position is providing quality references.  References substantiate information provided during an interview or as part of an application.  The objective is to provide external perspective on contributions made to an organization, so it is important to select references that can offer a positive and detailed representation of that effort.

Below are tips to choose the best references and prepare them before employers reach out:

  • DO provide multiple, current points of contact. Industry standard suggests providing a minimum of three references.  Ensure that email and phone information is current.
  • DON’T send references without asking permission.  Never list someone as a reference without first obtaining permission.  Verify that the person is willing to provide positive remarks about performance.
  • DO list references who can attest to professional or academic work you’ve done.  If you have worked before, the best references are prior supervisors or colleagues.  These types of references can speak to key factors such as core competencies, professionalism, and the ability to meet deadlines and collaborate in a workplace setting.  When applying for a first job, or if a candidate is returning to work after a long absence, other types of references may be more appropriate.  For recent graduates, professors, instructors, or academic advisors may be able to speak to the work ethic and potential of applicant.  If someone is returning to work, supervisors or colleagues from volunteer experience or community involvement may be able to address most recent skill development, dedication, and reliability.  Regardless of whether the reference is professional or extracurricular, the key is to identify a person who can reinforce qualities critical to the position. 
  • DON’T list friends or family members as references.  As mentioned, there are several different types of references based on the experience of an applicant and where they are in their career.  However, it is not appropriate to list friends and family members as references.  Limiting references to professional, academic, or volunteer contacts presents a more objective unbiased evaluation that can carry more weight in the decision process.  Job coaches or vocational counselors may also serve as valid references for candidates with limited professional networks.
  • DO keep in touch with references.  Frequent contact with references ensures the candidate remains fresh in their mind.  When a potential employer calls, the reference can provide the most recent and relevant information about significant accomplishments and work experience.  Further, the reference is able to quickly and easily recall how they know the candidate and the ways in which the two collaborated in the past.
  • DON’T provide references who cannot elaborate on details.  Talk to references to find out how much detail they are willing or able to provide.  Some organizations follow human resource policies that only allow representatives to verify dates of employment.  This may not satisfy the requirements for employers who conduct more in depth reference checks. Assume employers will ask more questions than less, and provide references willing and able to answer them.
  • Do utilize professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.  While endorsements on these sites cannot substitute for formal references, they do add credibility to an online presence, which will be searched by prospective employers.  These platforms are a great way to keep networks up to date on professional activity in the event additional references are needed.


Never underestimate the power of good references when you’re looking for a job. Invest time and energy into building strong relationships.  In today’s job market, who you know truly can make all the difference!

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