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4 Rules for Professional References

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When a hiring manager asks for your references, it’s a promising sign that you’ve progressed to the final stages of the hiring process. This pivotal moment is your chance to seal the deal and secure that coveted job offer. To ensure your references leave a lasting positive impression, let’s delve into the art of selecting and maintaining the right references for your professional journey.

Following Directions is Key

The first rule when it comes to professional references is to follow directions meticulously. Hiring managers often specify the number and type of references they require, such as a manager, colleague, or professor. Providing exactly what they ask for demonstrates your attention to detail and professionalism, which can enhance your chances of success.

Choosing References Who Speak to Your Diverse Skill Set

A well-rounded reference list can significantly boost your candidacy. Start by including at least one direct supervisor. They possess valuable insights into your job performance, making them a go-to choice for hiring managers seeking to assess your abilities.

If your current boss is unaware of your job search, consider listing a supervisor from a previous job or a trusted co-worker who can discreetly vouch for your capabilities. This way, you ensure that the hiring manager can still gather relevant information about your current work.

To complete your reference roster, carefully consider the skills and roles that align with the position you’re applying for. If the new role involves managing a team, approach one of your former direct reports to serve as a reference. If event planning is a key aspect of the job, seek out someone you’ve collaborated with on event-planning committees in the past.

Seek References Who Rave About Your Performance

When selecting references, don’t settle for “good”; aim for “great.” You need references who will sing your praises, extolling your job performance, work ethic, dedication, and other pertinent skills and traits. Avoid listing anyone with whom you’ve parted ways on unfavorable terms, as their lingering negative sentiments can harm your chances.

When approaching potential references, initiate a conversation to clarify your expectations. Instead of asking, “Can I list you as a reference?” opt for a more specific request like, “Can I count on you as a job reference to offer a recommendation and vouch for my work?” This approach encourages them to assess whether they can genuinely provide a strong recommendation.

Staying in Touch for Strong References

Maintaining a connection with your references is essential to keep their endorsements robust. Regular contact should aim to strengthen your relationship, whether by acknowledging their achievements in positive news articles, sharing your latest projects of mutual interest, or meeting in person occasionally. Each interaction reinforces their positive perception of you.

It’s equally important to keep your references informed about your job search progress. You need not notify them about every job application; instead, wait until a hiring manager requests your references. At that point, provide your references with the job posting, relevant details about the position, your reasons for interest, and an updated resume. This information equips your references to provide a compelling recommendation.

Finally, after the hiring process concludes, make sure to circle back with your references and share the outcome. Their investment in your success should be acknowledged, and they’ll appreciate knowing how it all unfolded.

In summary, professional references are not just names on a list but strategic allies in your job-seeking journey. By carefully selecting references who can attest to your diverse skills and maintaining these relationships, you’ll increase your chances of impressing hiring managers and landing your dream job.

Chris Kidd is the owner of,,, and

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