Simple Advice for Building a Great List of Job References

When you think about time-consuming items on a job seeker’s to-do list, resume edits and interview preparation might come to mind first. However, there is an underestimated and underappreciated weapon in the job seeker’s arsenal – an awesome list of references! And like everything else job search-related, a great list of references takes time to build and perfect.

As You Begin…

In an ideal world, you would have around five references on a separate document from your resume. This list would be made up of people who can speak highly and thoroughly of your accomplishments, work ethic, skills, education and overall performance. Sounds a little vague, right? Let’s lay it out further.

Who to Select

  • Managers/supervisors: These people carry a lot of weight because of their titles and roles in your career. They know firsthand how you performed and what you accomplished in past positions, so recruiters/hiring managers will be very interested in what they say.
  • Trusted colleagues: These are folks who worked with you day in and day out, so who better to speak about your work ethic and skills? They had a front seat to you as a teammate and how you impacted the organization.
  • Former teachers/professors: This might seem a little random, but former teachers and professors helped develop you into the professional you are today, so they can also speak to your work ethic, accomplishments and skills, as well as your education.
  • The friends and family factor: No, you don’t want to put immediate or your best friend on your references…unless there is a professional connection! If you have worked for the family business or with your best friend, it then becomes perfectly legitimate to put these people as references.

Next Steps

You’re not done with your reference list after you finish typing in all the phone numbers!

  • Don’t let them be blindsided: If you have submitted your reference list to a position, give your references a heads up! If they are blindsided, they won’t be able to sing your praises to the fullest extent.
  • Coach them: It’s more than ok to steer your references to particular experiences, skills or characteristics you would like them to highlight about you. In fact, knowing what they should talk about would probably help them feel more at ease.
  • Keep everyone updated: Your references care about your success – otherwise they would not be your reference! Keep them updated on the interview process, and of course, thank them immensely when the job offer comes.

References bring your resume to life, so make sure you remember this advice to make the most out of this job search tool!

Have additional insight? Leave a comment!

7 thoughts on “Simple Advice for Building a Great List of Job References

  1. I’ve been trying to work for you for over a year. I’ve have 2 different ladies contact me. The last lady sent me an email and I never got a response back. I would like to work out of Franklin, TN or Brentwood, TN. My Phone number is 615-556-5383. If you could follow up with me about any openings I would be very appreciative! Thank You for your time and attention!

    Thank you,

    Kelly Francis

  2. How can I build an impressive list of references when the people that did know how well I did a job have lost their jobs because of the toilet flushed economy? More and more people are losing jobs every day and/or people change jobs that knew me, the references are just gone.

    • Hi Angelo!

      Thanks for your comment. You bring up a good point – references’ employment can sometimes change! My best advice is to stay connected to professional contacts via email or LinkedIn. Not only do you want to keep tabs on where he/she is employed so you have correct contact information, you will want to keep that relationship warm. Like all people in your professional network, you should reach out regularly.

  3. I understand the theory behind your version of job references. But, this advice is better in words than realty. It is not very practical for all careers/work experiences. Reason: Some companies change field managers frequently, colleagues might night not want to expose themselves or be responsible for you not getting the position. Lastly, most companies delegate this task to HR where there is a stat statement, “Person worked here with dates of employment listed.” I understand that to have your manager as a reference would be a boost/asset, but that is not always possible. I beleive references are over rated and at times not needed. A pre written form would be better (you can send the form to your former employer and have them complete the information).

    • Hi Marg!

      You’re right – circumstances are different for everyone. I should have outlined better in this post that you should talk to a potential reference beforehand to make sure he/she is comfortable and/or able to speak to hiring managers. That way you know who can be added to your reference list, who cannot and reasons why/why not.

      As for the necessity, many companies require applicants to turn in a list of references. Medix being one of them. Hiring managers are aware that some companies have restrictions on giving references for former employees and are understanding. Just be upfront about it if a particular employer can do nothing but verify your employment. But if you have a variety of references from a variety of points in your career like mentioned in the post, you probably will be able to find someone who can speak about how awesome you are. Again, if not, be upfront about it to hiring managers.

      Additionally, pre-written references can definitely work, but a reference’s conversation with a hiring manager about why you would be perfect for a specific role is typically much more impactful. If you can’t facilitate that conversation between your reference and a hiring manager for whatever reason/restriction, a pre-written reference is definitely a viable option!

      Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation!

    • WOW! What a great idea to have a Reference “Form” that can be filled out. That helps not only the person giving a reference, but helps show your level of professionalism. I will definitely do this. Especially since I’m entry-level I think this will be quite useful, if the question comes up, of course.

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