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Preparing Professional References – The Finishing Touch To A Job Search

Professional References

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Your potential employer has determined that you’re a finalist for the position, and has requested that you submit professional references. Choose wisely; your professional references provide one of the final pieces of information an employer needs to make a hiring decision.

Selecting professional references before starting a job search –- and preparing each person in advance –- is vital to advancing the hiring process. Don’t jeopardize a great career opportunity by not having people at the ready to speak on your behalf.

Identify Potential References

Prospective employers want to speak with people who know you in different professional capacities. Consider diverse contacts with whom you’ve worked who can enhance and reinforce the impression you’ve made already. Create a list of former managers, co-workers and direct reports who can speak to your strengths, accomplishments, management style/effectiveness, work ethic and character. Vendors and clients with whom you had strong, long-term relationships are valuable to include as well. While you may need to supply 2 to 3 professional references only, it’s good practice to have more people on your list so you can choose the right person for the situation.

Prospective employers may ask you for personal references as well. Add friends to the list who are familiar with the work you do, so they can provide character references that relate to your role and are meaningful to the employer.

Contact Professional References in Advance

Reach out to potential references before you begin your job search to determine if they are willing and able to speak on your behalf. Check scheduling availability, in case your references will be traveling or unavailable for an extended period of time. Don’t put anyone on the spot. For example, if you only worked for someone for six months, don’t expect that person to feel comfortable serving as a reference, even if you have a positive history together. Since you started the process early, if you sense hesitation from anyone, you have the time to line up others.

Moreover, when you let trusted colleagues know you are searching for a new job, they may be able to support your networking efforts by connecting you with helpful contacts or potential opportunities.

Confirm Information and Timing

Once you’ve received their agreement, ask your references for their preferred email address and phone number as well as their current title, department and company name. Let them know approximately when they’ll be contacted (especially if a call or email is imminent) so they’re prepared to speak with your potential employer. If the possibility of contact is far off, connect periodically to update your professional references regarding your timeframe. The last thing you want to do is catch someone off guard who is supposed to be your champion.

Update Your Professional References

Make sure your references can provide recommendations that will speak to your most recent roles and responsibilities. You may have had a very strong and positive relationship with the person many years ago, but that may not reflect your present capabilities, expertise, accomplishments or leadership skills. Schedule time to speak together and provide your current resume and link to your LinkedIn profile. During your conversation, describe your current role, responsibilities and results you’ve achieved, any recent education or certifications you’ve earned and the positions you are targeting. This important background information will help your references think about how to formulate strong answers in response to the potential employer’s questions.

Tailor Your Short List

Adhere to the prospective employer’s reference requirements and send a list complete with each person’s title, organization and contact information. Some may ask for at least two former managers, or possibly two business references and two personal references. Since you made a comprehensive list, you can choose the right mix of people. You also may have someone on your list who has a history with your potential employer — a great choice, since they are familiar with the organization as well as your capabilities.


Right before you give a professional reference list to an employer, contact your references to tell them about the role you interviewed for, why you are a strong candidate and the key things the company wants, so that they all can provide a strong response when contacted. Additionally, let them know the name and title of the person who will likely be contacting them. Finally, remember to thank references after they’ve been contacted and keep them updated on your job search.

While providing professional references to a prospective employer is one of the last steps of the job search process, don’t wait until the final interview phase to assemble your list. Well-chosen and prepared references are essential to the employer deciding in your favor. The extra steps you take in advance will help ensure a positive outcome.

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