The “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Your Professional Reference List

Congratulations – If you have had one or two very successful interviews for a new job, the employer is probably getting ready to call your references. Is everyone on your reference list prepared to give you a glowing review? Did you make sure everyone on your list knows they may be receiving a call? As recruiters, we have seen it all, and we are passing on our knowledge to you to make sure you are submitting people who will speak very highly of you and your skills. Here is our Do’s and Don’ts list for submitting references:

1. DO tell your references that you have applied for the job. The employer might not always tell you when they will be completing reference checks – but if they have asked for your references,  you should let the people you list know that they may receive a call from the company or university, and supply them with the job description so they can talk about how your specific skills make you an ideal candidate for that role.

2. DO make sure you have the right contact information listed. Nothing is worse than trying to call a reference only to find that it is the wrong number. Ask your reference exactly which contact information they would like you to use, and make sure there are no typos in their email or phone.

3. DO NOT use references from over 10 years ago. The only caveat to this rule is if you are switching careers and a reference from a role you worked in over 10 years ago can speak highly of your skills for that job. Otherwise, it will seem like you do not have enough people in your current professional world who can give you a reference. Plus, you have grown a lot in the past 10 years! If you list someone from over 10 years ago, they will not know about your current skills and expertise.

4. DO NOT list your friends or family. This one may seem obvious, but we have seen it happen! It does not matter if you have done business with your friends or family – personal references will always seem biased to the reference checker. It is better to just leave them off.

5.  DO add a variety of people you have worked with – including supervisors and direct reports. And use references of people you have directly worked with; do not use people who are associates in your field, such as professors or business colleagues that do not have direct experience with you as an employee. If this is for a management position, the person checking your references wants to know about your management skills, so it is important to list a direct report. They also want to know how well you work with your supervisor or manager. If you have not told your current supervisor that you are applying for new positions, list a past supervisor instead.

Other general reference rules include listing 3-5 people with their name, title, email, phone, and sentence or two about how the two of you worked together.

The bottom line: You want to make sure your references are prepared so they can provide the best possible feedback for you. It only makes you look even better when your reference knows about the role, can speak highly of your current skills, and is enthusiastic and happy for you about this new job prospect.

Do you have a specific reference question not addressed here? Feel free to contact us!