How To Plan Your Job References Strategically


By Jeff Gillis

Many jobs these days require applicants to submit job references along with the applications, and depending on who you are using, this can hurt or help you. Be prepared to contact your former employers!

Often, future employers want to know little beyond your overall performance and salary.

Some may want more information like your ability to work in a team or your response to deadlines and pressure and your attendance record.

Hope you were professional enough in your last job that your future employer didn’t learn that you added eggnog to the company’s Christmas party and faxed photos of your butt to the Topeka branch of the company.

REMARK: This article is about your professional references. Be sure to read our “sister article” 101 character reference letter.

What job references should you use?

Before you panic and start trying to find friends who will pretend to be former coworkers to you, let’s take a look at the potential questions future employers might ask your references …

The best way to make sure you have stellar referrals is to find out who is going to give you reviews that will help you, and then think of them as your referrals.

10 questions a potential employer can ask your job reference

Here are ten questions employers typically ask. For the purposes of this article, we’ll pretend your name is Joe bob. (Hey, go with that …)

  • How long has Joe Bob worked for your company?
  • Can you describe Joe Bob’s duties and responsibilities in your business?
  • Did Joe Bob report directly to you? If he did, how was his communication with you?
  • Can you tell me why Joe Bob left your company?
  • Was Joe Bob responsible for others as well as himself? Was he in a managerial or supervisory position?
  • Is Joe Bob a good team leader or a good team worker?
  • How are Joe Bob’s organizational skills? Can he prioritize and plan?
  • We are considering hiring Joe Bob to fill this position. Can you tell me if you think he is qualified for this type of job or these responsibilities?
  • How was Joe Bob’s presence? Was he on time? Were his days productive?
  • Would you consider hiring Joe Bob again if you had the chance?

Okay, so a few of those questions were actually multiple questions, but you get the idea. So now your task is to review these questions and see how your former employers might respond to them and how their responses might affect your ability to find a job.

If you worked for Company X and had a fabulous time there with your friends, but didn’t have the best rapport with your boss, you might consider skipping this reference.

What if my work history is uneven or nonexistent?

If your employment history is a bit unstable or you don’t have a lot of options, there are other options for referrals. You can include places where you have volunteered, Church organizations you have helped with, and any other situations in which you have interacted with people on a professional level.

If you are new to the workforce and have not had a “boss”, you can still use professors, instructors, teachers Where advisers. Even old babysitting jobs can be used as references.

Properly prepare your employment references

After deciding which of your referrals would be in the best position to defend yourself for the job you are dying to get, you should first ask them if they would mind being a referral. Things can quickly escalate if one of your references is caught off guard by an unexpected call from a potential employer!

Then you need to prepare them properly. Make sure they each have a copy of your CV and cover letter. These will help remind them of your specific qualifications, skills and accomplishments.

JEFF’S TIP: If an old company gives you the line, “We don’t give referrals,” just bypass HR and go to the people you have specifically worked with and they’ll generally be okay with becoming a referral.

Work Reference List Template

If you want a really good template to model your reference list, check out:

As you can see, their templates go a bit beyond the traditional “list” of references and provide a bit more context to the references, which can highlight the qualities you have that match what you are looking for. the company. (We are not associated with these guys and do not recommend their services, we just like their model as something you can model …)

Don’t bother with reference letters

Including reference letters with your cover letter and CV is a waste of time. The point is, potential employers want to TALK to your references. They want to hear in their voice how they feel about you. Employers don’t put a lot of pizzazz in reference letters because let’s be honest, you pretty much know they’re going to be full of praise and little else.

JEFF’S TIP: That said, many companies More precisely ask you for a letter of recommendation. In fact, some might even ask you for a few different letters. Do not worry. We cover everything you need to know in our Letter of Recommendation 101 blog post and include a sample you can use to make sure your letters are perfect!

Employers want to dig in and really find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. They can find out these things a lot better by actually talking to your referrals.

As long as you choose and properly prepare your references, this fact should not worry you.


Ultimately, when putting together your list of professional references, make sure that you have people who will give them fair, unbiased, and hopefully favorable reviews. And for goodness sake, don’t just use friends or family. The last thing a future employer wants is to spend an hour on the phone with your mom listening to her talk about your diaper rash when you were five.

This is what the Christmas holidays are for!

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