Employee mental health is a top priority in 2022. Learn from 1,300 workers what that looks like for them. Dive into our new report on mental health at work

How to choose references for your resume

How to choose the right people to be your references? A hiring manager may ask for a list of job references during an interview. A reference usually provides information about you that’s not included in your resume or cover letters, such as your personality and work ethic.

Every job seeker wants to make a good impression on the hiring manager when applying for a new job. Will your references help you land it? Studies show that hiring managers have taken candidates out of the running after checking their references. This means you need to put as much effort into choosing the right people to be your references as you do into writing your resume.

In this article, we’ll explain what a job reference is and give you tips on choosing the best references to answer questions from hiring managers as part of your job application process.

What is a job reference?

References are also known as letters of recommendation, referrals, or testimonials. They come from your former managers, supervisors, or colleagues and comment on your work ethic, character, and skills. Usually, recruiters do not ask for them until later in the hiring process. Combined with your qualifications, your references can determine whether or not you receive a job offer.

Professional vs. personal references

Some companies prefer professional references, others personal references. It’s best to submit both. Professional references should feature your work history, accomplishments, and recent positions. Personal references should highlight your moral character, the qualities you have demonstrated, and your relationship with the person providing the reference.

Choosing references: the best tips for making the right choice

When you apply for a job, you should have a list of references ready to give the hiring manager if asked for them. While your references are not a guarantee that you’ll get the job, they can have an impact. Follow these tips to find the best reference:

  • Choose your references wisely

Ask for references from people who can speak to the skills, work ethic, and character you might bring to your potential employer. References don’t always have to be from paid positions, either. Consider people you have volunteered with or helped in another professional capacity.

  • Decide whether they would be a good fit for the hiring manager

When selecting your references, consider whether they have anything in common with the hiring manager reviewing your application. For example, if the hiring manager and your supervisor went to college together or are from the same city, they have a connection. This may make the recruiter more willing to consider your application because they can feel comfortable asking more candid questions. This can significantly improve your chances of getting the job.

  • Your current supervisor: should you ask them to be a reference?

By providing a reference from your previous supervisor, you can show that you have good working relationships with your superiors. If you don’t list your current boss as a reference, it could be because you have not performed well or that your current position is at risk. Let the recruiter know that you will be happy to provide a reference from them once you have received an offer. If you want to avoid this situation, make a list of people outside your current company that you can contact and explain to the recruiter why you are excluding your current employer or colleagues as references.

  • Ask for an internal reference

One thing that can help your application stand out is if you know someone at the company you’re applying at. If that’s the case, it might be worth asking that person for a reference. The recruiter is likely to know them and trust what they say about you, increasing the chances of shortlisting your application.

  • Ask for references that were part of your training

If you are new to the workforce, it’s always a good idea to get a reference. Who better to speak about your skills and work ethic than an educator who has taught you a relevant subject? Recommendations from professors are beneficial because they can speak about your character and the skills you learned in their classes. Aside from your professor, you can also ask your academic advisor or counselor. If you include the latter as a reference, they can talk about how you have developed over the years.

How to get the most out of your reference choices

If you have someone in mind as a reference for your resume, keep these guidelines in mind:

1. Ask the reference for permission

If there’s someone you’d like to name as a reference, you should get their permission to do so. Even if you feel you have a good relationship with them, they may not feel comfortable giving you a job reference. It is professional and respectful to ask permission, but it also helps them prepare. The better prepared the reference is, the better chance they have of providing a positive referral.

2. Ask for a reference’s contact information

Even if you already know a reference’s contact information, you should ask for confirmation of it. Apart from ensuring that your contact information is accurate, they will also know what communications to check regularly. Have your reference’s full name, current job title, phone number, email address, and work address available if the hiring manager asks for it.

3. Discuss your application with references

As you move forward in the application process, sending your references a copy of your resume and relevant examples from your portfolio may be helpful. You should also make sure they know a bit about the company and the specific job title so they can answer questions from the hiring manager on the front foot.

4. Keep your references updated on the status of your job search

Let them know when you enter the interview stage so they can prepare accordingly. When you know you have landed the job, let them know too. You may need them to be a reference again in the future, so thank them for their help.

Final thoughts

When applying for a job, choose references that can confirm your relevant qualifications for the role in question. For example, if you are applying for a technical position, you should select references that can specifically endorse those skills. However, some references might also speak to other aspects of your personality or work ethic. Overall, make sure your list of references covers your most important qualities, and help them write the best reference letter using this reference guide.

Another way to make your job search easier is to collect a pool of references. Even though employers usually only ask for one or two references, having a broad group of people to call on is essential.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Thousands of employers have posted their job openings on the Workable job board.

Take a look