5 Rules for Managing Your List of Professional References

5 Rules for Managing Your List of Professional References

Updating your resume and drafting a few versions of cover letters is standard practice when it’s time to look for a new job. But how much attention do you pay to your list of references? 

Hiring managers want to know more about you from people you’ve worked with or have known for a long time. They want to get a sense of who you are, as a person and as an employee. You want to make sure your references are people who will sing your praises but will also be honest about your abilities. 

Here are five rules for making sure your references are doing you favors and not missing the mark. 


Make sure your references are comfortable being used as references.

This is a simple one but it’s important! Ask for permission before putting someone’s name and contact information down on a list. Make sure they’re willing to help you out and speak on your behalf. This will also provide a little notice that they might be getting a call about you so they can be prepared and have time to collect their thoughts. Also, be sure to double check their contact information to make sure you’re providing the best phone number and email address. 

Ask a current coworker if they’d be willing to be a reference.

Sometimes hiring managers want to speak with your current boss, but if they don’t know you’re looking for a new job, this can be a problem. Instead, find a trusted colleague who can speak about your current role, your responsibilities and how you fit into the organization. It can be someone who works on the same team with you, a former supervisor who has changed companies or is in a different department now or, if your manager knows you’re looking to leave or if you’re in a position where your job is being eliminated and they’ve offered to help, take them up on it. 

Provide context to your references.

When you reach out to them to get their permission to list them as a reference, provide a little information about the job and why you’re interested in it. Let them know a little about the company and the role you’re applying for so they know how to answer the questions presented to them. 

Expand your idea of a reference.

If you’re newer to the working world, you might not have a lot of experience and, as a result, your list of references might not be very long. If you had a close relationship with a teacher or professor, ask if they’d be willing to help you out. Anyone who knows you well and can speak to your ability to work, your personality and drive and your background can be a reference! A trusted teacher, professor, mentor, clergy member, group leader — anyone who can speak on your behalf and isn’t a relative can be worthy of consideration. 

Change your list up based on the job.

Just like you’d use a different cover letter to apply for an administrative assistant position than one for a data entry job, you might want to ask different people to be references for different jobs. If it’s a public-facing job, you’ll want someone who can speak to how you deal with people in high-stress situations; if you’re going to be a member of a busy team, you’ll want someone who can speak to your strengths when working with a group. You might end up using some people for several different kinds of jobs, but have a handful of alternates as the job description changes. 


It’s also important to keep your references on a separate document from your resume and only submit them when requested. And above all else, thank them for their time and willingness to help! References can help settle a tiebreaker, so to speak, if a hiring manager is choosing between possible candidates and yours might well be the difference between being hired or passed over. 

If you’re looking for a new job and are eager to use this new list of references, call LeadingEdge Personnel. We partner with companies who are looking for workers with your background and experience and we’d be happy to introduce you! Call LeadingEdge today and let’s help you find your next job. 

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