Making the Most of a Reference

Created On: 02 April, 2016 Created By: Amber Travis-Ballinas

The majority of employers will request professional references at some point during the selection process. Commonly, references are requested as a part of the formal application document. It is important to have between three to five professional references-which are immediately available to speak to a potential employer-to include on the application and with the job search documents.

If a candidate omits references when applying for a position, employers might infer that the candidate does not know anyone who would be willing to speak positively about the applicant’s capabilities, experience, and background.

An applicant should always be certain that a hiring manager has at least three professional references that they could easily contact who will vouch for the suitability of the candidate—either verbally or via email. The applicant must provide the contact information for each reference including their name, current or past position / title and company name, daytime phone number, and email address. Additionally, it is helpful to include a brief explanation of the manner in which the applicant is acquainted with the reference, for example, ‘Former Supervisor at XYZ Company’.

Current and former employers are limited regarding the data and information that may be shared as a verbal reference; due to various privacy and legal liability concerns. An applicant can expect that a current or former employer will only verify the applicant’s previous title, duties / responsibilities, dates of employment, salary range, and whether or not the former employee would be eligible for rehire. Therefore, it is wise for applicants to include a mix of reference types including one former employer, one former supervisor / client / subordinate / or coworker, and one professional affiliate. If possible, include at least one reference who is not bound by privacy or liability issues who will offer a potential employer a broad view of the candidate’s background, capabilities, and suitability for the specific position. 

There are a few criteria that should be considered when chosing who to include as an employment reference:

  • You have known the reference provider for minimum of 2 years.
  • The reference provider is nowledgeable about your character, work habits, capabilities, and overall suitability for employment.
  • Use only professional contacts, such as a current or former supervisor, a current or former coworker, a current or former client, distributor, or supplier partner, a current or former subordinate, current or former teachers or coaches, and affiliates from professional associations. Do not use your family, friends, a priest, reverend, or rabbi as a reference--unless you have worked for them!!!

A couple of important rules to remember about references:

  • Always ask permission of the reference provider prior to providing the references’ personal contact information to an employer.
  • Do inform the reference provider that you are actively searching for a job and give details about the types of employers and positions for which you are applying, so they know how to "sell" you to the employer.
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