5 Tips For a Strong List of References


You aced the interview and received verbal confirmation that the manager wants you on the team. The company will be making you an offer. A day goes by and you receive notification from the company’s HR department:

You're calling about whom?
You’re calling about whom?


We are excited for you to join our team and have begun the process of putting together an offer of employment. In order to complete this process, our policy requires us to complete a reference check. Please send me a list of your references ASAP and we will continue to move this process along. I appreciate it and look forward to receiving your list of references (and to working with you)!


The bottom drops out of your stomach with the sudden grim realization that you, in your frenzy of resume editing, interview preparation and company research, didn’t prepare a list of references. Panic and desperation set in as you mentally flip through your list of contacts and colleagues. It’s been a few years since you’ve spoken with former manager Jane Dewey, but she always praised your work. Can you toss her name and number into the mix? What about golf buddy Jimmy Julius? After all, he was your supervisor back when you used to punch movie tickets in high school and still speaks highly about that time you skillfully caught an outside-food-and-drink smuggler. Mom always said you were super; should you include her email address?


Having a list of rock-solid references can definitely make or break your ability to get the job. Here are five tips to ensure that you have this critical piece of the puzzle in hand and ready to go the moment you need it.


Be sure all references are relevant .

While Jimmy Julius might give a glowing account of your golf skills and your crime-stopping days from the megaplex, a company looking to hire you today will probably not care what he has to say and will wonder why you listed him as a reference. Try to give at least three to five recent (within the last one to three years or so) references including at least one direct supervisor. If you can include more than one supervisor/manager, do so. If possible, pick colleagues from industries or past positions similar to the job you are applying for. Don’t include personal references unless specifically asked.


Ask before you list.

An unexpected reference call is extremely awkward for both your prospective employer and your unwitting reference. There are few things more damaging to your reputation than a person you list as a professional reference speaking poorly about you or not even remembering who you are. While building your list, have a candid conversation with each prospective reference and confirm that he or she will be able to speak positively about you. Not all managers and colleagues will be happy to help; it may even be against policy for some (many companies are prohibited from providing anything other than confirmation of dates of employment). Don’t name the person on your list if you get the impression that he or she is uncomfortable or will provide anything other than a stellar reference.


Always keep in contact with those whom you expect to speak on your behalf.

Everyone is busy and it is very easy to fall out of touch with people. Avoid falling into this trap when it comes to the individuals whom you hope to include in your list of references. Make it a point for communication to be of genuine mutual interest; don’t just email Gary Sacramento every six months to make sure he remembers who you are in case you ever need to use him as a reference. When it comes time to give Gary’s name and number to a prospective employer, be sure that you have openly discussed this with him first (see above).


Be sure that you have the correct contact information.

A bad phone number or an email sent unseen into the dark abyss of the Internet will grind the reference checking process to a frustrating halt. Make sure that you confirm a person’s contact information and carefully double check each digit and character in a phone number or email address for any errors before you click Send.


Show your appreciation (whether or not you got the job).

If you don’t get this particular job, you may need to call on your reference to speak on your behalf again in the future. A simple thank-you email or call may be enough depending on your relationship with your reference, but it’s never a bad idea to go the extra mile to ensure that your reference knows just how much you appreciate his or her time and effort. A gift is certainly not required nor expected, but feel free to send a personalized hand-written note or a small token of appreciation such as a gift card to your reference’s favorite coffee stop or restaurant.

What are some other ways you can ensure that your list of references is as strong as it can be?

EDI Staffing adds new job postings every day. Submit your resume, and we’ll reach out if we find a match:


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About Adam Barron

Adam supports EDI and IT professionals throughout the Midwest region of the US. As a recruiter with EDI Staffing since 2006, Adam has over 10 years of experience working with candidates to fill contract, contract-to-hire and direct hire positions, aiming to match each person’s unique goals with those of our clients. He is a frequent contributor to our blog, where he shares insight on industry topics such as marketability enhancement, resume improvement, interviewing and offer negotiation. Adam believes that strong relationships are key to the business and strives to connect with people, often keeping in touch long after a person has landed a job or interviewed with our clients.

Adam graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. Prior to joining EDI Staffing, he worked as a Business Development Representative for its sister company, B2B Contact. Outside of the office, Adam loves to spend time with family and also enjoys writing, Boston sports, skiing, movies and board/video gaming.

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