Coley Company Blog

What No One Is Telling You About Your Reference List


As a recruiter, I know that the people on your reference list tells a lot about you. Your reference list can secure your future with a company or immediately send your name to the bottom of the pile. Being strategic with your references will eliminate any questions about your past work history. Here are four strategies to consider when it is time to talk references on your job hunt.

Fill your reference list with the people who know you best—your old bosses.

The most important people to include on your reference list are your past supervisors from the last five to ten years. Your past supervisors can clearly share about your past successes, your personality, your strengths and weaknesses.  Once your list includes your past supervisors, then you can include peers, subordinates and/or vendors.

When I ask someone for a reference list and they do not include a previous boss, that sends me a red flag. If you had a bad experience with a past supervisor, then be honest about it. Allow your new employer to speak to that person and learn about the issues. Discuss the issues with your new employer and share details about that strained relationship. You can overcome the bad experience with multiple positive references from other supervisors.

You are evaluated on how freely you share your references.

When you share your reference names freely it shows you had good relationships with your supervisors and a positive work history. If I am speaking with a candidate who does not know how to contact their past supervisors, that sends a red flag and makes me question their past successes. It is important to maintain relationships with past supervisors so that you may continue to utilize them as a reference in the future.

Communicate with your references ahead of time.

In advance, call your contacts and ask them if they would provide a reference for you. References can be your best partner in securing a position. Tell your references about the company you are hoping to work for and get them excited to help you land the job.

Your job search can be a lengthy process, as a courtesy, send each reference an email to let them know who will be contacting them.

When you hand over your reference list, make sure the timing is right.

Be respectful of your reference’s time. Do not share your reference list with every company where you apply. You only want to share your reference list when you are serious about an opportunity. But, don’t wait too long because your reluctance can indicate problems with your previous work history.

Who is on your reference list tells your future employer a lot about you. Be strategic with who you use as a reference because it will help you secure the best opportunity for you.


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