Steps of a Job Search- Part 7: References

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Searching for a job can be overwhelming, and it is often hard to know where to start. There are many things you need to do to create a resume and search for a job, but you can break down the process into manageable steps.

Our “Steps of a Job Search” series highlights these steps. As we go through, follow along with Patricia and Nate (our fictitious examples) to see how it works.


Who should I list as a reference?

Most employers will request a list of three or more references in addition to your resume and cover letter. Employers are usually interested in references that can speak to your work history, as opposed to your general character.

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When providing references, include the reference’s name, business, phone number, email address, and very brief summary of your relationship with them (“X was my supervisor at Y” or “I baby sat for the Z family”). You can list your references on your resume or have a separate sheet to offer potential employers.

Reference tips:

Share accurate contact information

Potential employers do not want to spend time chasing down your references. It is important to provide accurate and updated contact information for each reference, including  name, email address and phone number.

Confirm the person you listed can be a reference

Before you list a reference, talk to them and make sure they are willing and able to provide this type of information to a potential employer. Depending on how long ago you worked with them, the person may have left the company or changed their contact information. Or, they simply might be too busy.

Some company policies prohibit discussing past employee performance. In these cases, a previous employer can confirm employment dates, but cannot share information about job performance.

If a previous employer is not allowed to discuss your performance, you can list them on your resume, but note they will only confirm employment.

Make sure your reference will give you a positive recommendation

You might think you did an amazing job for your previous employer, but they might think otherwise. Make sure your references will give you a positive recommendation, not undermine your efforts to get a job. If you are in doubt, ask them this question directly. 

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Consider the jobs you are applying for

If you are targeting a specific job, you may want to tailor your list of references to people who can speak to job specific skills.

For example, if you are interested in a construction position, it would be best to list people who can talk about your carpentry skills before you list your boss from the ice cream shop.

Warn your references they may be contacted

Reach out and let your references know to expect a possible call or reference request from an employer. Share information about the job you are applying for with your reference, and tell them why you want to work for the potential employer so they can speak to why you would be a good fit. 


References example: Patricia

Patricia is interested in working at a bakery so she lists people who can talk about her baking experience. The bakery owner at her last job would be a good reference, but has been ill and difficult to connect with. Patricia notes on her list of references that email is the best way to contact the bakery owner and makes a mental note to explain the situation to the potential employer if she gets an interview.

She lists a bakery co-worker on her list of references as well as a person who organized a bake sale fundraiser that Patricia baked 300 cupcakes for. Patricia wants to list one more reference who can speak to her work ethic so includes a teacher she worked with as a teacher’s aide. She reaches out to all her references to confirm their contact information and tell them a little bit about the job she is applying for so they can highlight her skills and qualifications.

Patricia is also interested in applying at schools to work as a teacher’s aide.  She has a lot of school experience so she focuses on contacting and listing her school-related references.

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References example: Nate

Nate doesn’t have an extensive job history, and his background is general, not job specific. When he left his fast-food job, he was told they do not provide performance references, but will confirm employment. Nate knows that his supervisor no longer works at the fast-food restaurant so he contacts the regional office to make sure they can confirm his employment. He lists the contact information for the office as well as a note that they will only confirm employment.

Nate reaches out to several families he mowed lawns or babysat for. Two of these contacts agree to provide a positive reference for him. Nate tells them he is applying for general employment positions and confirms their contact information.

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As you can see, creating a list of references takes some groundwork to make sure they will help you land your job. Reaching out to potential references before they are contacted and demonstrating you are thoughtful, considerate and responsible will remind them why you were a great employee!


All pictures from Healthy Community Living.

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