How to Get the Most from Your Professional References

Employers will want three to five professional references. A professional reference can speak about your performance on the job. Good professional references may be recent supervisors, co-workers (not subordinates), customers, vendors or suppliers, pro-bono clients, or volunteer committee members. Use friends or members of the clergy only as a last resort. They cannot give employers much of the information employers need to decide if you should be interviewed or hired. 

After you get the references’ permission to serve (their willingness to be contacted by prospective employers), collect the following information about each one:

·         Full name and title, if any. (Titles would include Colonel, Doctor, Professor, Judge)

·         Phonetic pronunciation of the reference’s name (if required). For example: “Sienkiewicz” is pronounced: “sin’-cavage.”

·         Job Title

·         Organization’s name

·         Full business mailing address (try to avoid post office boxes) including ZIP

·         Daytime phone number including area code and the best time to call (if applicable)

·         The reference’s private e-mail address (if available)

·         The reference’s professional relationship to you (former supervisor, current vendor, colleague, and the like) and the number of years you have known each other professionally.


Your references can make or break your career.
Do you really know what they will say about you?

It is important to discover information the interviewer will hear before your interview. You should have a complete dossier on your references including how long it took to get a response, general tone, and verbatim quotes. How do you accomplish this?

You have someone call or write your references, identify himself/herself as an HR rep for a company, ask the normal questions about you, then report back to you.

Top 5 to Stay Alive: Insider Information to Help Your References Help You

The better the job, the more likely your references will be checked—and in detail. Therefore, good references can increase your chances of being hired. And bad references can eliminate you from consideration, even if your professional skills have always been excellent.

According to Terra Dourlain, an expert in the field of references checking, about half of all references checked are mediocre or poor contributors to a job seeker’s success. Here are some “red-flag” examples of actual comments made by references:

“Our company policy prohibits us from saying anything. All we are able to do is verify dates of employment and job titles. However, if I were you, I would check his references very, very carefully.”

“Are you certain she gave my name as a reference?”

“Is he still in this field?”

Here are things you can do now to help control this important part of your career search:
1. Speak with your references. Of course, you want to get the references’ permission to serve. But you can do much more to make it easy for references to speak well of you. Give them a copy of your résumé. That will show them what kinds of positions you are seeking. And it will remind them of your track record.

2. Tell them what you have done so far in your job search. Show them that you are serious about your career. And consider adding them to your network by asking if they know of any organizations that might use your talents and energy.

3. Reassure references that what’s needed is not a string of adjectives, but rather their impressions of you at work, solving problems. Try to meet personally with each reference, if you can. Otherwise, telephone them. Please avoid the impersonal impression email makes.

4. Confirm your personal information. Check with the human resources department of your recent employers to verify that all information in your personnel file is correct.

5. Keep your references up to date. Let your references know which companies you have contacted. And once you are hired, please let them know that you appreciated their help. Send each one a thank you note.