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Job-Seekers, Follow 7 Rules To Get the Perfect References The employer wants to hire you, but has to check your references first

By Consiglia Intile, Assistant Director of Career Services, National Louis University

You just blew the employers away with your expertise and skills from your final interview. You are offered the position, just as long as the employer can contact and speak with your references. References are an important piece in the interview process because they can validate what candidates have placed on their resumes. To ensure this step doesn’t interfere with your offer, follow these seven rules regarding your references.

1). Choose those who know your skills, strengths, and accomplishments

When it comes to listing your professional references, you want to choose those who are familiar with your work style, skill sets and accomplishments. For instance, a current or previous manager would be a top choice for a reference. They have been able to provide you with mid-year and annual reviews that measured you in different areas and will be able to give an employer a true recommendation for the position you are applying to. Perhaps, if you excelled in a specific course in college, choosing your professor as a reference would be another smart choice.  Your professor will have knowledge of your written and oral communication skills, time management skills, punctuality, and demeanor in the classroom that can be transferred over to the workplace. If you completed an internship or volunteered at a local agency, you will also benefit from adding your supervisor to the list. Since these are both very similar to a job, your supervisor will be able to learn your work style along and skills. If you lack any work experience, all your references can be your professors from any of the courses you did well in, so they can speak of your achievements. Avoid listing personal references, such as relatives or friends, on your applications. Employers rarely accept personal references from candidates because they always assume they will provide nothing but positive feedback.

2). Ask Permission First

Before listing anyone as your reference, please make sure to contact them ahead of time and ask them for permission. This can be done formally or informally. You can write the person a letter or send them an email asking if they would be a reference for you. If some time has passed, it would helpful to include what job title you were employed at or what class you were in, or any other information that can help refresh the person’s memory. Once you get the references’ permission, you can start adding them to your applications. If you move forward and decide to add your references without their permission and  an employer contacts them, your references will be clueless as to why they are getting such a phone call.  This will turn out to be an embarrassing situation for both your reference and the employer and can cost you that interview.

3). Keep in touch with your references

Once you obtain a professional list of references who have all agreed to help you with your job search, set up a reminder to contact your references once a year to make sure you have their updated and current contact information. These reminders can also help them remember you more and they will be better prepared when an employer does contact them. To keep in touch with your references, you can send them a simple email to ask them how they have been or any other small talk. It doesn’t have to be something formal.

4). Keep them in the loop of your applications

Remember to keep your references informed of any positions you apply for. It would be helpful to send each reference the job postings you apply to so they are aware of the organizations you are targeting. Another benefit to this is they will be aware of who might be contacting them and won’t seem confused or surprised when they receive that phone call. This also makes you appear as an organized and professional candidate that an employer would be excited and happy to interview or hire. So it is a win-win for the both of you.

5). The more references, the better

Many applications require candidates to list three professional references when applying to positions online. It is always a good idea to have more than three references.  If you are offered a position, they will need to contact your references before they can send you the offer letter. If they have a hard time contacting one or two of the references, your job may be put on hold or on the line. Having a few extra references will allow the employer other chances of contacting the three references faster. This will secure your job offer.

6). Provide the employer with the necessary information

When providing employers with a reference list, please make sure to include the individual’s first and last name, company name (the company your reference works for), the company address, city, state, and zip code, along with their phone number (either work number or cell phone number) and email address. It is very important to provide the employer with both pieces of contact information because it will provide a higher chance of reaching that individual than if the employer only had one method of contact for your references. Your references should be listed on a separate word document in the following format below.


First and Last Name of Reference

Company Name

Company Address

City, ST Zip Code

Phone number

Email address


Be sure to bring copies along with your resume and cover letter to all your interviews so you can present them with your references if they were to make a job offer to you after the interview.

7). Show your appreciation

Send a thank you card or email to all your references to show how thankful you are for them. They are an important piece in landing a position. They take time out of their busy schedules to speak to employers on your behalf so taking time out of your day to send them a thank you card will be very much appreciated.