10 Things You Should Know About Job References

If you’re looking for a job, you’re bound to be asked to supply a list of references. This task might seem daunting, but the endorsements you receive from quality references are invaluable to landing a great job.

To help you understand creating a list of references, here are some commonly asked questions about job references.

How many references should I have?

Typically, this ranges depending on the type of job you are applying to. Entry-level typically asks for at least 3 references, whereas senior positions might require more. You should always have a master list of contacts to choose from. This can either be a spreadsheet or a business card file.

Can I use the same contacts for every application?

We advise you don’t. Always keep track of when you utilize each of your references, so you don’t end up using the same contacts for every job you apply to. You don’t want to overuse them to the point where it gets annoying for them.

What kind of information should I have on my reference list?

This is what you should include: name of the contact, their business relationship to you, the company name, their phone number, and their email address. You can also include additional info to customize your reference by stating skills and experience that each reference can attest to.

Will hiring managers actually contact my references?

Every hiring manager is different. Some might only use references as a formality and end up using their own opinions of you from the interview. However, there are hiring managers that will call every contact you include on your reference list and even contact others outside of what you provide.

Many hiring managers accept the fact that the references you list might have a bias and they may reach out to other contacts they know from your past employment or search for them on LinkedIn. The only person considered off-limits is your current employer. Hiring managers recognize that contacting your current employer may jeopardize your job.

Should I put my references on my resume?

No. Many times when you send out your resume, it is placed in an Applicant Tracking System for them to contact you if a future position opens up. By that point, your reference information may be outdated. Also, space on your resume is prime real estate. Use that space wisely.

Is there anything I need to do besides list contacts?

Preparing references is not about listing contact information for people you worked with in the past. You need to prep your references. First off, you need to ask them if they can be used and inform them about the position you are applying to. Nothing is worse than a hiring manager contacting a reference and they have no idea that they were included on your application. Learn more about preparing your list of references here.

What if a past company I worked for went out of business and they can’t contact anyone?

Indicate on your resume or list of references that the company closed their doors permanently. These things happen. The only thing hiring managers want is reliable contact information in order to contact your references. If you can’t supply that, then don’t bother putting them on your reference list.

Is following up with my references necessary?

You don’t have to follow up, but it will help you in the long run. When you ask your references, make sure they are comfortable with sharing details of how the reference check went. Your references can clue you in on any concerns the employer might have based on the questions they asked, so you can reinforce your ability to do the job. You can also prepare them for future reference checks if the questions asked were challenging for them to answer.

Is there something I can do if I think someone gave me a bad reference?

If you prepare your references properly, you won’t have an issue like this. However, in rare occasions, you might get a sense of this when you follow up with each of your references. If you are still in touch with the potential employer, you can address the issue immediately and directly. Don’t wait. Acknowledge what was said about you and give examples of situations that counter what was said. Another way to mitigate the effects of a negative reference is by countering what was said by supplying them with another reference that would counter what was said.

What’s a “letter of recommendation” and should I have one?

A letter of recommendation, or reference letter, is something that is written by a reference in advanced. Typically, they are requested when you leave a place of business or when you are pursuing a specific position. They can lighten the demand of references on former employers, but in many cases, they don’t completely satisfy the request for references. Hiring managers prefer to have the opportunity to ask questions and probe for answers.

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