Leverage Your References to Get the Job (Article)

Written by
Eric Pye
CPA Alberta

Oct 25, 2018

Oct 25, 2018 • by Eric Pye

I received the following email from a client:

“Hi Eric,

I’m having trouble with references not responding or giving good feedback about me. Is there any advice for that, or am I just hooped?

Yours truly,

(name deleted)”

This was not the first time I’ve been asked about references. Many job-seekers are uncertain about who to approach for references, and how to ensure they are supportive when contacted. There are plenty of resources out there devoted to writing impactful resumes and cover letters and preparing properly for interviews, but references is a somewhat neglected job search topic.

In response, I sent the following:

“Good question. I don’t necessarily think you’re ‘hooped’, but it depends on how you’ve been going about selecting and preparing potential references. You have to be strategic about who you choose and how you communicate with them. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Organizational policy: Some organizations have policies against giving references, or about how much information can be given. In some cases, the only information they allow is confirmation of employment and dates. In others policy may allow a comment on sick time usage, and or willingness to rehire. These policies are designed to protect the organization from possible law suits if a former employee misses out on an opportunity due to a negative reference.
  • Confirm willingness and contact information: Each time you attend an interview, check in with all referees on your list for that role (referee = the person providing the reference). Confirm whether the person is still willing to speak on your behalf, and whether they’re going to be available over the next several days (if going away for vacation or meetings, you can notify a recruiter when or how your referee can be contacted). Make sure you have their email, phone number and job information correct, and indicate what your working relationship was in the past.
  • Prepare your references: Let the referee know about the job you’ve applied for (email them a copy of the job description and your application documents), and give them a heads-up on items you’d like them to stress so they’re prepared for a phone call or email from the employer. Do this well ahead of your interview (not the night before) so you’re not caught in a panic if someone isn’t available. If you really want your referee to be prepared, you can also call them after meeting the employer to update them on any new information or priorities you learned in the interview.
  • Personal references: For organizations where HR or line managers are restricted in the reference information they can provide, you may want to consider asking your manager or a colleague for a personal rather than professional reference so the information they give is not attributed to the organization they work for. You can note restrictions or explain a situation like this to the interviewer when asked to hand in your references.
  • Other referees who are familiar with your work: Consider asking other individuals who may be supportive of you (former teachers and college professors, clients, volunteer coordinators, mentors, community leaders, team-mates, etc.) for personal references. While they may not be able to review your performance in employment, they can certainly speak to your character and achievements in other settings. If you absolutely must, you can give the name of a friend or family member, but don’t overload on your social circle for references as there will be some expectation of bias and lack of objectivity from those close to you.

Hope that helps. Regards,


PS: Don't mention availability of references at the end of your resume. It's old fashioned, and wastes space.”

If you’ve gotten through an interview and have been asked for your references, there’s a strong chance the job is almost yours. Get this part of the process right, and you could soon be receiving an offer. Good luck!


This article was originally posted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140818224210-15462-5-steps-to-better-references/

CPA Alberta