How to Build Your Reference List
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How to Build Your Reference List

on 29 November 2020

If you’re starting a job search,  chances are you probably haven’t given much thought to your references.

What others say about you is often far more important than what you say about yourself. That’s especially true for job seekers.

Do you have a list of references ready to provide to prospective employers?

Most likely, you’ve focused on your resume, networking, interview skills, and what to wear to the interview, but haven’t paid too much attention to your references.

They’re a chance for the employer to get a clear picture of who you are–so you’ll want to make sure your references paint a pretty picture.

Because professional praise or criticism can make or break your chance of landing the job, it’s imperative that you choose your references wisely.

You should line up references who can speak to your credentials and qualifications for a job, so you’re prepared when you’re asked for them.

Regardless of how good your resume is or how skilfully you interview, your references can make or break your chances of landing a new job. So, it pays to stay on the radar of former supervisors, co-workers and customers who can provide glowing recommendations about you to prospective employers.

As with all communication with a potential employer, from cover letters to thank you notes, your list of references should be formatted professionally, easy to read and understand, and free of any typos or errors.

To do that, you must regularly re-evaluate and reconnect with your references to ask permission to list or continue to list them, express your appreciation, offer to reciprocate by being a reference for them, and get their updated contact information. It’s more challenging to keep track of people who might have relocated due to mergers or downsizings.

During the job application process, you will most likely be asked for references who can attest to your qualification for the job. Typically, this request either occurs when you initially submit your job application, or later in the application process, when the hiring manager is close to making the decision about which candidate will get the job. The employer will typically specify how many references to include on your list, as well as what contact information you need to provide for each reference.

Who makes the best references?

People who have worked with you and will speak favourably on your behalf: besides former supervisors, clients and co-workers, you can include former subordinates and vendors who frequently interacted with you.

A broad mix of professionals on your reference list will give hiring managers a perspective on how you deal with various levels of personnel.

When reaching out to current and potential references, be sure to communicate the following:

Acknowledge their importance / value to you. 

  • Explain that you intend to begin a job search soon.

  • Ask their permission to be used as a reference.

  • Clarify that no action is required at this time.

  • Inform them that you’ll contact them when officially begin your search.

Here’s a suggested script (for phone or email) which you can customize according to each reference situation:

“[Name of Reference] I’m [calling/writing] because we’ve known each other for a while, I respect you [add details] and I think you would be a good reference for me in my job search. There is nothing you need to do for now. I just wanted to tell you about it and find out if it’s okay with you to be a reference in the very near future. I’ll contact you again when I’m ready to start interviewing and will provide you with a copy of my resume. I really appreciate your help.”

After your reference agrees to help you, ask how he/she wishes to be contacted; then get his/her appropriate telephone numbers, mailing address, email, etc.

One caveat: if you’re currently employed, I recommend using only outside references, meaning no one from your present employer. When filling out applications, explain that your supervisor would give you a great reference (as long as this is true) but you wish to keep your job search confidential.

In most states, employers use “at will” hiring practices; this means they could terminate you, without warning, if they suspect you’re job searching.

Good references are crucial during a job search and throughout your entire career. These strategies will help you build and maintain a network of people who can advocate for your candidacy, whenever you find yourself in a career transition.

When you provide a list of professional references to an employer, you should include your name at the top of the page. Then list your references, including their name, job title, company, and contact information, with a space in between each reference.

If it’s not clear from your resume, you may also wish to include information about your relationship with the reference. For instance, you could write “Reference Name was my supervisor while I was an accountant at Samle Company Name,” or “Reference Name is my current employer.”

The list should include at least three professional references who can attest to your ability to perform the job you are applying for. 

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