Your list of references is a critical piece in your job search and should be compiled early on. Though employers usually won’t ask to check your references until you’ve become a finalist for a position, always bring a copy of your reference list to an interview just in case, and be prepared to email it when asked to do so.
What are employers looking for when they contact your references?
- To verify your work history
- To establish your integrity
- To evaluate your working style or personality
- To confirm their decision
Employers typically ask questions like these:
- What were your primary responsibilities?
- How did you get along with co-workers?
- What were your top skills?
- What were your limitations or weaknesses?
- What was your attendance record?
- Would the employer hire you again?
Whom should you choose as references?
Here are some suggestions:
- Someone who has witnessed you in responsible roles (e.g., an advisor, a professor, or an internship supervisor)
- A current or previous supervisor (if you haven’t informed your current employer that you’re looking for another job, indicate that on your list of references or in the interview, and ask that the employer wait to contact your current employer until further along in the process)
- A current or previous co-worker
- A favorite customer
- Your pastor or youth leader
- A neighbor you helped with childcare or lawn mowing
- A club or scout leader, or coach
- A mentor
In general, don’t list family members, or friends who know you only in a social capacity.
Do you need to ask your references for permission?
Yes! Before including anyone on your list of references for any job, you must ask for permission. Asking permission will also:
- Allow you to check for accurate spelling and the most current contact information.
- Ensure that the reference is happy to speak for you and will say something positive.
- Give you a good opportunity to continue to network.
Most people will be happy to be a reference, but if any seem hesitant, politely let them off the hook. You want your references to be enthusiastic about you and your abilities! Let each reference know what type of position you’re seeking and what aspects of your background you’re emphasizing, and be sure to provide each of them with the latest copy of your résumé.
If it has been awhile since you have connected with your references, take the opportunity to invite them for a cup of coffee and get reacquainted. They might even have some helpful suggestions for your job search!