Who Makes a Good Professional Reference?

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Employers place a lot of value on references, because these provide both an insight into how well you work with other people, as well as a subjective perspective on who you are.  While a resume is something that you can spend time tweaking and perfecting on your own, a reference isn’t entirely in your control, and is therefore more honest in some respects.  For this reason, it’s crucial that when you are deciding whom to ask for a reference, you choose someone who will not only sing your praises, but who will also be able to speak intelligently about you and give hiring managers a more complete picture of who you are and how you work.  Here are some individuals you should consider:

Your Current Employer

Few people will have a better understanding of how well you work for someone than your current employer.  Hiring managers like to speak to referrers who have a current, realistic take on the candidate being reviewed, and so they will take a lot of stock in what your current boss has to say.  Before you list this person as a reference, however, make sure that you have discussed with them your plans to find another position – otherwise you could find yourself in some hot water.

A Past Employer

A past employer is also a good person to turn to, especially if you haven’t worked too closely with your current employer.  It’s especially helpful if you had a particularly close relationship with your previous boss, and if they can provide a more valuable insight into who you are.  Depending on how much time has passed, it’s probably a good idea to refresh this person’s memory by summarizing some of the highlights from your working relationship, as well as to update them on some of your current professional endeavors.

Your Professor

Many individuals just entering the working world will turn to professors to vouch for them, and this is just as acceptable as asking an employer to refer you.  A professor will have a solid idea of your work ethic, your ability to collaborate with others, and your overall intelligence.  He or she will likely focus on the transferable skills that you possess, which you can utilize in the workplace.

A Coworker

If you feel that you cannot turn to an employer for a good reference, consider asking someone you work with.  A coworker can speak to how well you work in a team; they can also discuss your ability to take the lead on certain projects or help others with their work.

A Customer

Depending on your line of work, another individual to consider as a potential reference is a satisfied customer with whom you have worked closely.  This person can speak about your professionalism, your ability to get the job done in a timely manner, and your communication skills.  A customer who is willing to go out of their way to provide a good reference speaks volumes about your character and working style.

These are just a few of the many individuals whom you can ask for a reference.  Other examples include business contacts, teammates, family friends, and more.  Any person who is able to speak about your work ethic, leadership skills,  ability to learn, value as a team member, and so on, is a possible reference.  Just make sure that you ask them before you start giving away their contact information to hiring managers!

Until next time,

The Doostang Team

Seven Tips for Developing References

By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC GetInterviews.com

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“References upon Request”. While this phrase has become passé on resumes, every job seeker knows the importance of having good references. Even with the more commonly occurring instance of HR departments only confirming dates of employment and status for rehire, references are still a very important part of the job search.

So how do you “develop” your references? Most people think you just write down a few people’s names and contact information that can attest to the fact that you are a great person, a good employee, and won’t run off with the office supplies. Totally wrong! Developing good references actually requires some thought and work.

Tip 1 – Consider the field

When deciding upon whom to name as your references, it is important to think about who you select. Director supervisors and people who have true knowledge of your work performance make the best references. Higher-up execs, while perhaps having more important job titles or better name recognition might well say “Joe who?” when contacted for a reference because they don’t know who you are or only have a passing exposure to your work performance. That would be embarrassing!

Tip 2 – Ask Permission

Always talk to those whom you plan to name as references in your job search! You don’t want your reference to be caught off guard when contacted. Also, get their permission and make sure you have the correct contact information for them. Some might prefer to be contacted by email while others prefer a home phone or cell phone number. Mailing address for references is not necessary.

Tip 3 – Are They Competition?

An old recruiters’ trick is to use an under-qualified candidate’s resume as a “backdoor” to qualified candidates – the references. Good references should have direct knowledge of your work performance but ideally should be in a slightly different functional line of work than you. For example, a recruiter might contact an Associate from XYZ Firm only because he is hoping to get access to the Senior Associate (the candidate’s supervisor) in hopes of luring him/her away.

Tip 4 – Who Knows Whom?

When a recruiter or employer is checking references, they know the references that are listed by the candidate are going to have good things to say about the candidate. Let’s face it – who is going to list someone that would say BAD things? That is why hiring professionals ask the following question of most references: “Who ELSE other than you has direct knowledge of Joe’s work performance? Can you give me their number or email?” It’s not so much who YOU name as a reference but rather who your reference names as a reference. To counter this, ask anyone you ask to be a reference the same question “If asked, who else would you recommend as a reference for me?” If your references name someone who you think would not be very glowing in their report, take the opportunity to steer them away and suggest an alternate person.

Tip 5 – Get it in Writing

Save yourself a lot of trouble and have your references write letters of recommendation for you. In fact, anytime you have a great achievement and receive accolades, ask your supervisor to give you a “pat on the back” in writing. Save these for the future! They are invaluable.

Tip 6 – Preserve Privacy

Never, ever publish your references’ names or contact information in your resume or on the web. First of all, references should never appear on a resume simply because it is not the place for that information. References are provided during the interview, usually a second interview and it is always great if you have it prepared in advanced and can leave the data.  Something tangible by which the interviewer can ‘remember you’. Putting your references’ names, phone numbers, emails and addresses in an online database or in a resume that is published online is simply not something you should do.

Tip 7 – Keep it Professional

Your references should be professional people who have direct knowledge of your work performance. The “character reference” is pretty moot, especially for executives. Hence, do not include a pastor, a friend, a neighbor or a family member.

Before you start your job search, make sure you have your references developed and ready to go. Your references need to know if you are conducting a confidential job search or an open one so they do not accidentally let the cat out of the bag. Consider a thank you note to each reference after you win your new job. That will keep them primed for the next time!

About the Author:

Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country’s leading resume writing firm. They provide professionals with customized, branded resumes and career marketing documents. Her and her firm’s credentials include being cited by JIST Publications as one of the “best resume writers in North America,” quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and published in a whopping 25+ career books. Established in 1994, the firm has aided more than 100,000 job seekers to date. All resume writers are certified writers. GetInterviews.com offers a free resume critique and their services come with a wonderful guarantee — interviews in 30 days or they’ll rewrite for free!

Evaluate Your Career References and Win the Job

By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC GetInterviews.com

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Your resume did its job and won the interview. The interview went well and now the hiring manager is moving forward to check your references. Are you ready? Reference checks and background checks, Google searches and social media searches are the norm for HR managers when vetting prospective new employees. Hiring is expensive so they want to make sure they conduct their due diligence and make a good hire. It is very important to know what your references will say, what will be found about you on the Internet, and what any background checks will reveal.

When preparing your reference listing for the employer, make sure everyone listed has not only agreed to serve as a reference for you, but will also have good things to say about you. Your references are your hand-picked cheering section. Employers naturally expect to hear good things from references you provide, so if there is a dissonant note from someone you listed, it can raise a red flag. Ask your references what they will say about you; consider giving them a copy of your resume and maybe some “talking points” regarding your strengths. Help your references be prepared.

Provide references who have direct knowledge of your work performance if at all possible. Family members should never serve as references! Employers will be interested in your work performance, not just that you are a nice person. You want references who can give direct knowledge of how you perform on the job in your particular career field.

Take off your rose-colored glasses. For example, if you had a spotty attendance record at a previous place of employment, get real with yourself about it. Employers ask specific questions when checking references. They ask about attendance, performance, attitude, specific skill sets, level of responsibility and education. Talk to your references about potential problems which might be of concern to the next employer and make sure there is a solid plan to handle those problems constructively.

Consider your “developed” references, too. Employers and recruiters typically ask your references a basic question – “Who else do you know that has knowledge of Joe Smith’s work performance? Can you provide that contact information?” Developed references are people your first-line references give as also having experience working with you. Know ahead of time who your references will give as these developed references. It’s possible your first-line reference will furnish someone’s name you would prefer not to speak with a prospective employer; maybe your reference wasn’t aware of some conflict in the past, for example. Find out ahead of time who your references will cite to employers and make sure that pool is also ready to cheer you on.

Social media has a large and growing impact on reference checking. For years, employers have Googled candidates but now they are reaching further into social media sites. Be very cognizant of anything you post on the web! Your comments, blogs, photos, and even personal information is easily found with just a few clicks of the mouse. If your name has been mentioned in a newspaper, it will probably be on the web. If you are part of a group with an online directory, your name will show up. Nothing is private – nothing. It is amazing what is available to a savvy searcher who knows how to find information. It is up to you to maintain a solid online reputation.

Consider running a background check on yourself to see what comes up. Most employers run background checks on potential hires so knowing what they will find will help you be prepared. Maybe you are concerned about a DUI from years ago. Be ready to address that if the employer asks. Few people, if any, have perfect pasts so a mistake in the past will not necessarily knock you out of consideration for employment; being unprepared to respond to the concern of the employer, however, might well put you in the “don’t hire” category.

With a tight economy, employers have the “pick of the litter” when hiring. Performing your due diligence in providing references, preparing references, and making sure your reputation is sound may mean the difference of you getting the offer letter instead of the other candidate. Do not ignore this part of your job search or fail to consider it until you are asked for references at the interview. Prepare ahead and you will win out in the end.

About the Author:

Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country’s leading resume writing firm. They provide professionals with customized, branded resumes and career marketing documents. Her and her firm’s credentials include being cited by JIST Publications as one of the “best resume writers in North America,” quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and published in a whopping 25+ career books. Established in 1994, the firm has aided more than 100,000 job seekers to date. All resume writers are certified writers. GetInterviews.com offers a free resume critique and their services come with a wonderful guarantee — interviews in 30 days or they’ll rewrite for free!

Getting the Most out of Your References


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Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR-CA Michael Trust & Associates

As the economy slowly begins to improve, more positions will become available. One of the key processes in any hiring process is the reference check. This process can make or break your candidacy for a position. Key points to consider:

  • If you only contact your references when you need them to be a reference, you may find them to be lukewarm in their enthusiasm about you. References, in addition to being fantastic networking sources, are like plants: they have to be watered and nurtured. Keep in touch – even if just at holidays or birthdays; preferably once per quarter. The more they know about what you’re doing, the better reference they will be.
  • Always ask a potential reference if you can use them as one. No past colleague or supervisor wants to be blindsided by a reference call. This irritates them, and does not serve your purpose.
  • Alert references to the potential for a reference call when you genuinely believe that a call will be made. In addition to alerting the reference, you can provide a copy of the job description, a current resume, a list of accomplishments (that may not be highlighted on your resume) that are related to the potential position, and a reminder about what you did when you worked with or for the reference. The better prepared your reference is, the better reference they can give you. It is YOUR job to prepare your references. While your career may be the most important thing in your life, it probably is not the most important thing in your reference’s life.
  • Do not take advantage of your references. They are your most valuable tool. They are not an instrument to be used and discarded; they are an instrument to be used, nurtured, and appreciated. Return the favor; offer to be a peer or subordinate reference; share networking leads; help them without being asked.

About the Author:

Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR-CA is a Human Resources and Career Coaching professional, and president of Michael Trust & Associates, www.MichaelTrustAssociates.com, a Human Resources Consulting and Career Coaching firm. His Human Resources experience spans twenty years, and he has had major roles in staffing in all of his Human Resource positions. In addition, he has coached individuals at all career levels relative to their career paths, job search strategies, and related areas.

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