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How to Choose the Best References

Congratulations!  You’re nearing the end of the hiring process.  Perhaps you’ve made it through a few rounds of interviews and the hiring manager has asked for your references.

How do you choose who to put down as a reference? It’s an important choice you’ll have to make. A strong commendation from your references can prove to an employer that you have the right skills and experience to shine in the position. 

The main reason why potential employers want to check your references is because they want to hear another voice who can tell them about your job performance and workplace character.  You may have given them great information in your interview and given examples of your work ethic and character, but a potential employer wants to hear your supervisor’s assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.

A hiring manager really wants to speak with someone who knows your work ethic and will speak to your job performance.  In general, these people will be the most helpful for a hiring manager to speak with to verify your experience and skills.

  • Current manager or supervisor (if possible)
  • Prior managers or supervisors
  • Your current peers or clients (if you’re interviewing for a client-facing role)
  • Co-workers or colleagues
  • Possibly personal friends who can verify your character

Don’t use relatives as a reference, unless you happen to work directly for or with one.

If you’re looking for a new job while you’re employed, you aren’t going to be able to use your current manager as a reference. Consider enlisting former managers and former co-workers you trust. Let your references know how important it is for you to keep your search confidential and the consequences for you if they let your current employer know you’re looking for a new position.  Also, alert your potential employer why your current supervisor is not on the list and that under the circumstances, the reference you’re giving them are the strongest that you have.

When you ask someone to be your reference, be sure to spell out the details of the position you’re pursuing and why you have chosen them to highlight your particular skills and experience.  If you think mentioning a specific project or accomplishment may be helpful, let them know that you’d appreciate them mentioning this to the hiring manager.  Before you end the call or meeting with your potential reference, be sure to ask them again if you can count on them to respond if and when they’re contacted.  If they hesitate or pause before saying, “yes,” consider leaving them out of your reference list.  They may not be as committed as you hope.

You should not and don’t need to list your references on your resume.  Likewise, there’s no need to say, “References available upon request.” This is assumed. When the hiring manager wants your references, he or she will ask for them.

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You.

While you may not know if a reference has been contacted, send a thank you email or call them to say thanks for taking the time to vouch for you and help you in your job search.