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Selecting Dependable References

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: How should I select job references? I certainly want to get good references from people, but how can I be sure what they’ll say?

A: You’re right to think strategically about references. They can be extremely important for your future. Most people wait until they’re job searching to think about references, and that’s too late. Do it while you’re still employed.

References don’t have to come from your current manager. You can ask coworkers or former managers for help, but be sure you have at least three or four solid references you can depend on. Keep in touch with your references so you have up-to-date phone numbers and email addresses and know their current titles and where they work. People change jobs a lot in today’s world.

References don’t have to come from your current manager. You can ask coworkers or former managers for help, but be sure you have at least three or four solid references you can depend on.

A good reference knows you well and is the kind of person who will respond quickly when contacted. I recently heard of someone who didn’t get a job because the hiring manager didn’t get a call back from one of her references within 24 hours. Be sure the references you use are dependable.

When you give a prospective employer your list of references, be courteous and tell your references to expect a call or email from the organization you hope to join and what to emphasize about you and your background. Let them know about any skill you’ve developed since you worked together that might be helpful for this new position. When I am asked to provide a reference for a colleague, it really helps me to know something about the job they are going for. Then I can provide examples of how that person will be a great hire for that organization.

Many organizations go beyond the list of references you provide, so try not to burn any bridges when you leave an organization. Some organizations use the references you post on LinkedIn, so be sure those are people you would want a prospective employer to contact.

When you’re fired from a job, the situation becomes more difficult. Whenever possible, ask that your former employer not release information about why you left. Any smart organization won’t share that information, but be on the safe side and remind them.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].


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