Which References Will Help the Most?

Posted August 11, 2015

In addition to having an impressive-looking resume and well-written cover letter, every job seeker should be armed with a list of professional references who can testify to their character and abilities.

Hiring managers often contact these references to find out more about a candidate’s personality and accomplishments. According to a survey by CareerBuilder, almost 70 percent of hiring decisions have been affected by a reference. Therefore, you need to pick these individuals wisely.

Mistakes to Avoid

Resist the urge to include family members and friends. Hiring managers know these people can be the most biased to talk to and therefore their words don’t carry much weight.

Instead, consider former supervisors, teachers, mentors, colleagues and co-workers. These people can be from a former job or from a community organization. The best references are those who can speak to your skills and accomplishments.

Don’t include outdated or old references either. If your reference can’t recall you, it’s not a good sign. If you need to include former bosses or colleagues from many years back, reach out to them first over LinkedIn to see if they would be comfortable being one of your references.

Who to pick

Obviously, former bosses, supervisors and executives carry the most weight with hiring managers. Talking to a former boss is a great way for a hiring manager to gauge just how much value a person brings to a company. Co-workers can provide similar information, but their words carry less weight.

Job candidates just getting out of school or pursuing a job in academia should include former professors or tutors. These people can vouch for work ethic and intellect.

If you absolutely must, friends and family are viable choices – but should only be seriously considered if they were in your life professionally.

A few simple guidelines

Also, be sure the former managers you include will be able to say something positive about you. Some companies have a policy of not saying anything and including someone from one of these companies won’t help your cause.

Make sure all the information for your references is up-to-date. It’s pointless to include an executive who has nothing but good things to say about you if the hiring manager has the wrong contact information. If you’re asking someone’s permission to use them as a reference over LinkedIn, follow up to ensure you have the best way to contact them.

Finally, don’t provide a list of references unless you are asked. Doing this for every job application could lead to your references getting a steady stream of calls about you. The reference list should only be provided upon request.

As a side note, don’t put "References available upon request" on your resume. This is assumed with every job application, and stating it is basically adding a throwaway sentence.

At Ambassador, one of the leading employment firms in the South, we're committed to finding our job candidates the best possible match for their skill set. If you’re worried about putting together your list of references, feel free to contact us and we can provide feedback or suggestions.