Who Should You Use as a Job Reference?


Good references are an important part of what makes an employer want to hire a particular candidate. In a competitive job market, your references can be the thing that puts your resume on top of the pile. A good reference proves your value as an employee and that’s important from a hiring perspective. Even though checking references is often the last step in the hiring process, don’t think it isn’t of equal importance to your skills and other qualifications. Employers want to hire qualified professionals who will perform well on the job and stick around long enough to make a difference. Your references are the only thing that will assure your prospective employer you are worth hiring.

So given that your references are so important, it’s critical you are providing the best references possible within your application. But identifying those references can be difficult. Here are three questions to help you figure out who will help you land the job.

How is your relationship with this person?

Even if you’ve worked with or for someone for a significant amount of time, that doesn’t make them a good professional reference. Consider your overall relationship with the individual when deciding whether to include them. Obviously, you don’t want to list anyone you had a bad working relationship with. Furthermore, just because you left a company on good terms doesn’t mean your old boss will help you land your next job. It really comes down to your standing with this person outside of the work environment. Have you both made an effort to stay in touch outside of the workplace? Would you turn to this person for career advice or insight into the job market? When you worked with them, were they impressed by your professionalism and work product? This kind of questioning will help you identify who the best references from your past will be when moving forward in your career.

Is your experience with them relevant?

When considering which references to include in a job application, it is important to also think about how your previous experiences and work history align with the job you are currently applying for. Think about the specific skills and qualifications you are marketing for this opportunity. How have your references seen those skills in action in the past? Would they be able to sing your praises in a specific manner or did they just generally enjoy working with you? Can they share examples of your hard work? It’s easy enough to find a reference who will say you were pleasant to work with, but a truly effective professional reference will tell the hiring manager how you solved problems and delivered value to the team.

Would you hire yourself on their recommendation?

Look at the reference from the perspective of a hiring manager. As is often the case with friends and relatives, references are more powerful when received from individuals not emotionally related to you and your success. Similarly, it’s good to have a couple of people from different locations, experiences and backgrounds to demonstrate your well-rounded experience and skill set. Try to look at the conversation from an outside perspective to make sure you’re sending the right message.

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