Getting Ready for the Reference Check

So, you are thinking about looking for a new job, or are already in the thick of sending out applications.  I bet your resume is ready, your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, and you are prepping for potential interviews.  But what about your reference sheet – has this file been given any proactive thought or attention?  It should.

Often job seekers enter a job search focused very heavily on the start of the process:  write a resume, update LinkedIn profile, prepare for interviews.  Yet when the time comes for an employer to substantiate career history, work ethic, or select skills they are going to ask for references.  Providing the right references is critical to securing the offer.

How can you start preparing for that all-important reference check?  With these 3 steps:


  1. Select Your References

To start, identify between 3 to 10 individuals to be your “ideal” references.  These people don’t all have to be your direct supervisors or managers, but each person should know your work well.  Considerations may include:

  • Current or former bosses, managers, or supervisors
  • Current or past co-workers
  • Customers, vendors, or suppliers you’ve worked closely with
  • Team members you supervised
  • Members of your community groups or associations
  • People you’ve volunteered with
  • Educational professionals like professors, teachers, advisors, or faculty members

Aim to select people who can speak positively about your work style and work ethic – who have directly seen you in action and can share details about your work performance and abilities.   The key words here are “speak positively”.   If someone isn’t 100% sure they can share positive, supportive information on you, then these are not the right people to ask.


  1. Speak with, and Prepare, Your References

Take time to reach out to prospective references to reconnect and get their permission to use them during your job search.  Ideally, you want to engage in the reference discussion *before* you start applying for jobs, so that these people are well prepared, and you can offer their information to employers without any hesitation.

Give each of your references a copy of your resume and walk them through some of your recent achievements or remind them about some of your past accomplishments.

Finally, ask each reference what they would say about you.  Yes, don’t be shy.  Once again, you only want to use references that will benefit your job search.  If a person seems uncertain about your work ability, or can not clearly articulate your unique value, their input could be more of a hindrance than helpful.


  1. Write up Your Reference Sheet

Now that you have your references identified and prepared, draw up a reference page that you can distribute to employers when asked.  Note: when asked!  It is never a good idea to provide your reference details to employers before requested.

If you give employers your reference details as part of your initial application (i.e.: in your resume) then what is going to stop them from reaching out to these people before they have the chance to meet or speak with you?  Maintain control of which references you provide and when.  The most common time to provide your reference details to employers is after or during an interview, unless they are explicitly requested prior.

You also don’ t need to give every employer your entire list of references.  Strategically select 3 to 5 people that you think will do the best job for the application at hand.


Lastly, once you’ve had an interview and provided reference details, follow up with the people on your list to give them a head’s up. This will ensure they are better prepared to be contacted.