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Are Your References Ready?

You’ve had a successful interview and were asked to provide references. It’s time to pore over your list of contacts, ask if they’re willing to speak on your behalf, and brief them about this specific job opportunity. Right? WRONG!

Your references should be sourced at the same time you’re building your job search plan, refining your career goals, and writing your resume. Don’t leave it to the last moment.

Who should be on your reference list?


Generally, the rule of thumb for an executive job search is to have from five to seven references. These should be people who know you well and can speak eloquently and confidently on your career progression, work ethics, integrity, and attitude.

Your reference list should include a combination of internal and external contacts, for example, one person who was your direct boss, one or two peers, one or two employees (direct reports), a vendor, and a customer/client.

Before finalizing your list, Google each of your references by name to ensure there is no negative digital dirt.

How should you present your references?

For consistent branding, use the same format and font as you use in your resume. Include the person’s name, job title, company name, details about how you know them, and the easiest ways to contact them, i.e., email address, phone number(s), and Skype address.

The phrase “references available upon request” on a resume went out in the previous century (pre-2000). Instead, bring your typed reference list to the interview and offer it when asked.

When should you contact your references?

During periods of career transition, brief your references every two to three weeks to let them know the status of your job search – which potential jobs are pending, and where you are in the process.

It’s vital that you don’t lose track of your references. If you have trouble reaching someone, so will your potential employer. Also beware that the people you’ve chosen aren’t sabotaging your efforts. That happened to a client of mine – you can read the story in this post about the importance of carefully checking your references.

As I explain in that post, references are your personal brand ambassadors, validating how you’ve portrayed yourself in your resume, and building onto the good impression you made in your job interview.

Be sure to take the time to select the right people, prepare a properly formatted list, and update your references on the status of your job search. Get the right people in your corner and help them to help you.

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