Picking Your References: How to Pick People Who Will Shine for You

Selecting Job References

References still matter to your job search. Fully 80% of employers do call your references, and 16% even call your references before they call you for the interview—so choose them with care. Why? Because 62% of hiring managers said that one or more of the references they typically contact did not say good things about the candidate. How can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Here are some tips for picking references that will make you look your best to the employer.

Who Shouldn’t be a Professional Reference?

It’s probably not a good idea to list a relative as a professional reference, even if you worked for them in their business. Perhaps you had a manager or a coworker that would be a better fit. Of course, we don’t have to tell you to have your friend pose as your former manager, although we’ve seen it happen. Also, don’t list someone that doesn’t have any on-the-job contact with you. Employers want to talk with someone who has supervised or worked with you. So who should you have as a reference?

Who Should Be a Professional Reference?

We like professional references from the following types of people:

  • A current supervisor.
  • Any prior managers from the past few jobs.
  • A co-worker in your department or on your team.
  • A client, particularly if the role is client-facing.

While you can have a personal reference, a business reference is preferable. Only use a personal reference as a last resort, and ask the employer if that’s okay. Do not list these references on a resume, either. They just take up space, and frankly, do you want the hiring manager to call on your references before you’ve even interviewed? Why risk it, right? You also don’t need to spell out “references available upon request.” The hiring manager already knows this.

If you are surreptitiously searching for a new job and don’t want your current boss to know, references can get a little tricky. Lean heavily on former managers at prior jobs. But if there are one or two people that you can completely trust at your current job, and if they’ve seen your work first hand, that would be very beneficial.

Selecting and Prepping Your References

Each time you use your reference, it’s important to prep them for what you’ve applied to. The more information you give them, the better they’ll be able to back your claim that you’re the right employee. Consider sharing:

  • The name of the company and what they do.
  • What type of role you’ve applied for?
  • Who will be calling them?
  • What skills or experiences would like the reference to play up?

It’s important to prep the reference simply because it’s polite but also because you’ll want to check in to find out what they’re going to say about you. If you feel at all uncomfortable with the reference or what you think they might share, simply don’t list them and move on to someone else. The last thing you want is a lukewarm endorsement from an old boss when you’re in the final running for the job you want.

Finally, when you know the reference has been contacted, thank them, take them out to dinner, send them a goodie basket. At the very least, offer to return the favor if they’re in the same situation.

How do we know so much about references? We’re PrideStaff, the leading staffing agency devoted to finding talent. Call on us if you’re ready to look for a new and more challenging position. We can help.