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My colleague, August Cohen (@resume_writeron Twitter) tweeted about preparing your references to talk about you should a prospective employer call. This is an often overlooked topic. Job seekers are so busy trying to get interviews, often thinking ahead to the next step (references) is an afterthought. Some things to think about..

Many job seekers overlook this important part of the job hunt. Especially if you have often reached the final stages without landing the job, touching base with those who may hold the keys to your next position is a great idea!

Whom to Ask? Ideally, you should have a current or immediate past employer as a reference. Co-workers and trusted subordinates may also be references, but most hiring managers will want to hear from employers. If you are a student or recently graduated, faculty members may serve as references. If you have had a leadership role in a volunteer organization, “supervisors” from that organization may be good references for you.

Ask permission. Once you have in mind who you’d like to serve, ask their permission. If they seem hesitant or hedge at all, allow them to bow out gracefully. You don’t want to browbeat your references into helping you. (They may hurt more than help.) The best references are those who are enthusiastically supportive.

Prepare your references to support you! Be sure they have the most updated version of your resume and a cover letter for the position if you have one. Let them know if you expect they will be called, and offer suggestions of topics they may want to emphasize.

When I was applying for one of my jobs, I knew that teamwork and the willingness to pitch in when necessary were crucial for my potential employer. I emphasized how I was the perfect match (I really was!) in the interview. I also asked my current supervisor (who knew about my search and was my #1 reference) if she could mention some examples of my teamwork when she spoke to my potential boss, who offered me the job as soon as he spoke to her!

Hopefully, you will have a strong relationship with your references and will be comfortable making them partners in your search. Let’s face it – you can get right to the job’s door by having a great resume and interviewing well. The key to get in is in the hands of those who are willing to recommend you for the job!




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  • Making sure references understand what you need from them is crucial. Never assume – ever. The wrong word, the wrong emphasis can ruin all the work that’s been put into careful communication of your achievements. Great post – wish more people took this seriously.

  • Miriam,

    This is an excellent piece!

    I, too, feel very strongly about the importance of professional references. You’re right – many job seekers are so consumed with all the other components of “the hunt.”

    Along with all your wonderful pointers, I’d also like to stress the importance of finding out what these references will actually say when asked about the candidate in question. Job seekers, like Miriam says, it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask your professional and personal references what he or she would say about you. In fact, you do not want any surprises, so this is step is crucial!

    Also, keep in mind that when prospective employers ask for references, a vast majority of the time they actually will contact those references. Be prepared!

    I also offer a few tips on references and other job searching tips for young professionals in my new book, #ENTRYLEVELtweet ( So, check it out! 🙂