Job references play a crucial role in your job search by adding an independent evaluation of your work ethic, skills, and strengths – and ultimately, a good reference check may demonstrate you as being the stronger candidate over another contender.

A reference can truly make or break your chances of securing your next role, so it’s critical you don’t overlook this part of the job search process. Ensure you give ample thought and consideration into choosing the right people, maintaining those relationships and properly briefing them on the roles that you’ve applied for.

Get started with these tips for choosing the right referee and preparing for a reference check to increase your chances for success.

Choose the right referees

It’s important to have a strong collection of current, relevant referees on hand to support you in your job search. Choose referees who:

  • You have worked with closely within the last five years
  • Are fully aware of your strengths and will speak highly of you
  • Can verify and discuss your skills, experience and abilities in detail

Job references could be past or current managers, managers from other departments with whom you’ve worked closely, external clients, suppliers or colleagues, even managers you reported to from work experience or interning.

If you are fresh out of school or university, a teacher, lecturer or mentor whom you have a good relationship with could be suitable as your reference, as hiring managers and recruiters will understand you have not yet had work experience.

No matter who you decide to be your references, be sure to get their explicit permission before listing them as referees – if they say yes, check that their titles and contact details are correct and up to date.

Remember that even if someone is sure to speak highly of you and can attest to your strong work ethic and diverse skill set, they may not be the best option as a resume referee. Why? Not everyone is adept at communication, particularly over the phone or on video call, which is how most referee interviews are held. For example, this person may be known for mumbling over their words, speaking in a monotone voice, not being articulate under pressure, or failing to respond to questions with clear and concise answers.

While these cases are not that common, it’s still an important factor to consider, especially if you have other referee options that can speak more eloquently and with enthusiasm. On the other hand, if a written reference is requested, perhaps this is where they’d be best suited instead.

Brief your referees on every reference check

Make sure to prepare your referees so they’re aware of upcoming reference checks and ready to be contacted – whether it’s via phone call, video call or an initial email. Even if you don’t have a specific job in mind, it’s considerate to let your referees know ahead of time that you are job hunting and will contact them if or when a reference is required.

When that time comes, provide them with:

  • Ample time to prepare for the call and write down some notes
  • The job title and a description of the role you have applied for
  • The skills and experience your prospective employer is looking for
  • Any information about what the hiring manager or recruiter needs further details on i.e. your working style and leadership skills, or problem-solving during a particular project
  • Details on who will be contacting them and when

If appropriate, you can also share your thoughts on how your experience and personal attributes are relevant to the new role. This allows your referee to reinforce aspects of your past performance that will show you in the best light.

Don’t forget to keep your referees informed on your job search activities and let them know that, if appropriate, you’d be happy to act as a referee in return.

Match your referees to the role

When you are making your way through the interview stages, prioritise putting together a shortlist of potential references that you can call upon during your job search. This way, you can match two or three that would best suit the role you are applying for, and you’ll have them on hand, ready to go if you reach the final stage ahead of the job offer.

For example, if the job you’re applying for requires strong leadership skills you may want to choose someone who has worked under you who can personally attest to what it’s like having you as their manager. Or perhaps the role is all about communication skills, in which case a client could be a good pick, as communication is a huge part of successful client relationships.

Don’t forget to say thanks

Regardless of the outcome, always take the time to give your referee a call, or send them a quick email, to say thank you. If you are successful in the job application, consider reaching out to your referees with a thank you card or small gift to show your appreciation.

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