Do’s and Don’ts of Using Someone as a Job Reference

By Staff Writer Published on October 16, 2017

Before you even begin looking for jobs, it’s important that you establish your references. While this may not seem like the most important part of your application, a glowing reference could set you apart from other competitive candidates. Here are some job search do’s and don’ts for securing your job references.

Do: Be strategic about who you ask

Ideally, you should have your choice of references and can choose the best references for a specific job. For example, if you’re applying for a leadership position, it’s best to ask someone who’s seen and can testify to your leadership abilities as opposed to someone who gave you little autonomy.

Similarly, choose those who have already given praise or expressed their favorable opinions of you and your work. If you have LinkedIn endorsements, for example, it would be strategic to use someone who’s endorsed you online so that if (when) the interviewers look you and your references up online, a glowing review appears. A survey from CareerBuilder actually found that 32 percent of hiring managers hired a candidate because of a great reference they saw on social media.

Business Man and Woman Talking

Don’t: Ask someone with whom you’re too intimate

This advice should also be taken with caution: your online presence matters. It may be tempting to ask a personal friend or close co-worker to be a reference, but if your interviewer finds inappropriate content involving the two of you, all credibility is shot. This goes for any content you post online. Lying, poor communication skills, provocative material, or content indicative of excessive drinking or illegal drug use are all factors that have eliminated candidates from a position, according to the Careerbuilder survey.

Do: Speak with your reference in person

If it’s been awhile since you’ve worked with your reference, it’s good to call them and catch up personally before asking them to be a reference. Reminisce on the days you worked together and ensure they feel favorably toward you. Ask them to be your reference and then talk specifics. Tell them about your current position, and draw parallels from your previous position to this one. Ask them what experiences stand out to them that they would share, and specifically ask if they would recommend you for this position.

Don’t: Assume an agreement to be a referral means a good referral

Being thorough is important. 62 percent of employers reported that when they have contacted references, they didn’t speak favorably of the candidate, according to the CareerBuilder survey. This has caused 69 percent to change their minds about a candidate. If you don’t want to be part of that statistic, then don’t brush aside this important part of the application process.

Do: Make sure your references are available to be contacted

When you first ask them to be a reference, ask them their preferred method of contact. This includes the days that they are available to talk as well as the method. Give this information to the interviewer when they ask for your references, and then call your references as soon as you leave the interview. The interviewer may call them immediately while your interview is fresh in their head, so make sure your reference is aware.

Don’t: Be overbearing

Respect their schedule and professional boundaries, and don’t contact them incessantly. Staying in contact is important, but that should be limited to an email or phone call once a month after they’ve agreed to be a reference. Similarly, keep their information strictly on your list of references, not on your resume. Plastering their name and info all over your LinkedIn or GooglePlus is not a good practice.

Do: Ask for a follow-up

Once they agree to be a reference, ask them to please let you know if or when they hear from your prospective employer. Ask about their conversation, and then use what they say in a follow-up email to the interviewer.

Don’t: Forget to thank them, regardless of the outcome

Woman Thanking a Woman in Business Dress

Your references may have been glowing and all may have been favorable, but sometimes there are just more qualified applicants, or you were meant for something else. Regardless of the outcome, thank your references personally and graciously for taking the time to speak on your behalf. This isn’t the last job you’ll apply for, so don’t let your disappointment ruin your gratitude or the relationship.