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Preparing References for the Job Search

August 5, 2009

In the career services world we talk frequently about polishing resumes and perfecting interview skills but often wait until the last minute to explore the topic of supplying potential employers with references.   Nearly all organizations will request a list of three or more references before extending an official job offer.  Before progressing too far in your own job search, spend time considering a list of references, determining the appropriate time to provide a reference list, and equipping references with the tools needed to sing your praises.  I assure you, this will be time well spent. 

New job seekers often submit resumes for revision to our office that include a list of references.  While it is great to be prepared with the list, a resume is not the place to provide references.  These belong on a separate document.  Why?  All too often resumes are submitted and placed in a file to be reviewed later.  The “later” could be a few weeks or several months from the date the resume and references were originally submitted.  Because you are not in control of the time frame within which your resume will be reviewed, there are several solid reasons to hold onto those references until officially requested by a potential employer.  (1) Within the timeframe the resume is submitted and reviewed, your relationship with one or more of your references could change.  If a relationship took a negative turn, your list of references previously submitted may not be the best choice for your current situation.   (2) If you still have a great relationships, calls months down the road from potential employers may catch your references off guard and they may not be prepared to sing your praises.  (3) Submitting your references’ contact information with all applications allows your personal contacts to receive unsolicited calls.  Out of respect for your references, submit their names and contact information to only those positions for which you are a top candidate.  In short unless required to do so by the job listing, wait to submit your list until a potential employer requests your references.

References only work in your favor if the person speaking on your behalf actually knows you.  Be wise when selecting your references to ensure these are people you know well and trust with your job search.  Keep the relationship with your references strong by contacting these individuals frequently.  Commit to getting in touch with your references regularly.  Down the road you will be happy to have current connections with these references.  Keeping your relationships current certainly makes asking them to speak on your behalf as a reference easier in the long run. 

Always let your references know you are listing them on application materials before doing so.  This allows the individual an opportunity to decline if they are not able to provide a positive reference.  Even someone who thinks extremely highly of you needs to be made aware that they may be contacted by potential employers.  Give your references a courtesy call each time their name is submitted as a reference so they are prepped for a phone call regarding your background. 

Better yet, equip your references with all of the tools needed to talk you up.   Providing current copies of your resume and lists of your accomplishments will bring your references up to speed on your outstanding skills and qualifications.  To take it a step further, why not provide your references with the job descriptions of the positions for which you are in consideration?  With this information your reference can customize what is said about you to fit the requirements of specific jobs.  Make it easy for your references to talk you up – it helps everyone in the long run.

In short, references are a crucial part of any employment search.  Take the time to carefully consider your selections and prep your references for calls from potential employers.  After all, a glowing reference puts you one step closer to a new job. 

Feel free to email me at and check out Herzing University Online at

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