How to Get Good Job References

Your job references can make the difference.

Most potential employers request job references. While many company HR departments will now only confirm dates of employment, it is still possible to find colleagues who will provide the kind of detailed reference that can make the difference between getting a job offer or being 2nd choice. Select the right people so your reference can put you at the top of the list. Getting a bad job reference can put you at the bottom

Choose people who know and respect your work

It’s tempting to just ask your friends. You know they will say good things about you, right? But what if your friends haven’t worked closely with you in a while? A good hiring manager will ask questions about recent performance, and your reference must be able to give examples. Always chose someone who knows and respects your work from recent experience, even if you aren’t best buddies.

Choose people who sound and appear professional

Your reference reflects your professionalism. Choose people who speak crisply and cogently. Doing so not only means that your job references will sound good; it also subtly implies that you will be completely professional too. We are who we associate with!

glass ceiling

Choose people who are willing

Not everyone is willing to serve as a reference. They may be concerned about company policy, or about being asked if they knew you were looking for another job. Or they might feel that they don’t know your work well enough or could not say 100% positive things about you. Either way, if you ask someone to be your reference and they hesitate, leave them a graceful way out of it. Better to find someone who doesn’t share those doubts.

Give them a heads up

Once you have picked your references, be sure to let them know when they might expect to be contacted and by what company. Consider giving them a few ideas: mention projects that you worked on together, or a compliment that they have paid you. Follow up afterwards by thanking them for supporting you. Don’t ask what they discussed but do listen if they are willing to tell you.

Beyond references

References are only one part of your application: your CV or resume, cover letter, social media profile and interview all contribute to the company’s decision. Stay in contact with the hiring manager and their HR partner, using every opportunity to point out why your skills and personality are the right fit. Choose the right reference to give them one more reason to put you at the top of their list.

Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.