How to Make the Most of References

 In Career Tips, Job Search Strategy, Professional Networking


Getting the Most From Your ReferencesKathy Keshemberg

The  references you provide and how well you prepare them can play a huge role in your chances for a job offer. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1.  Choose people you trust and who can articulately vouch for the work that you do. Supervisors or others who have evaluated your work are at the top of the list. Also to be considered are colleagues (past or present) and outside people that you’ve interacted with through your job (vendors, customers, etc.). And don’t forget about professionals who may know you through volunteer activities or advanced education or trainings. As we all know, relatives and friends should not be included on your list.

2.  Make it easy for the interviewer to contact your references. Create a one-page reference sheet that includes your name and contact information on the top (I recommend using the same heading that is on your resume). For each reference, include their name, how you know that person (i.e., direct supervisor at XYZ Company or purchasing agent at ABC Corp, supplier for XYZ Company), and as much contact information as you can (i.e., company, mailing address, email address, work, home and/or cell phone numbers). Keep the format consist for each entry.

3.  Keep your references informed. When you have an interview and leave behind your reference sheet, immediately send an email to each reference and include the job posting or any information available about that job. You want them to be aware that they may be contacted so they aren’t caught off-guard.

4.  Prep your references. Just like you need to prepare for an interview, help your references do the same. Identify the top three qualities that are important in your next role, and ask each of your references to address one of those qualities. For example, if problem solving is important, discuss with your reference a situation they were involved in where you came up with a workable situation. Or if leadership is key, ask your reference to discuss a particular project where you took the lead and convey the successful outcome. This prep can be done at the beginning of your search in general terms, or for each specific position you interview. Either way, by “assigning” a different quality to each of your references, the interviewer will get a well-rounded overview.

By choosing the right people to list as references and taking a little time to prepare them to speak on your behalf, your potential employer is going to receive rave reviews about you!


For more than two decades, Kathy Keshemberg, NCRW, CCMC, and her team at A Career Advantage have been providing professionals with world-class resume consultation and writing, career coaching and personal branding services.
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