Demonstrate your professionalism during the reference check

Congratulations, you excelled in the final interview stage, and now, your potential employer is interested in contacting your references. Have you prepared a list of people who could give you a good reference? Will they vouch for your qualifications, skills, work ethic, and character? As a job candidate, you must approach the selection of your references carefully and strategically, ensuring they are well-prepared to advocate for you.

What are references?

References are individuals who can provide insights into your professional background and suitability for a job. They include former supervisors, colleagues, professors, mentors, or anyone with a professional relationship with you. When your potential employer requests references, it signals that they are interested in your candidacy and want to verify your qualifications.

Who should be your references?

When selecting references, consider individuals who can speak positively about your work and character. Ideally, your references should have worked closely with you professionally and can provide specific examples of your skills and accomplishments. It’s also important that you have a good relationship with them and that they are willing to vouch for you.

What to expect during a reference check?

A thorough reference check involves asking open-ended questions about the job candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, work history, specific job duties, performance and areas of improvement. Employers may ask about your character, work ethic, professionalism, communication skills, and how well you collaborate with others. They might request specific examples that illustrate your skills and abilities. This helps them assess your qualifications in practical terms. The purpose of these conversations is to gain a deeper understanding of your work style, how best to facilitate your success as a new employee, and how well you might fit into the new role and the organization’s culture.

What are the best practices for providing references?

Be proactive: The time for identifying your references is when you start your job search. Create a larger list of potential references that can speak to your skillset and experiences. Reach out to see who is available and willing to give you a recommendation. Let them know the type of job you are looking for (maybe they know of some openings), and that you are just setting out on your job search, but you will be reaching out if and when the opportunity presents itself. Thank them in advance for their support.

Get specific: Find out what your potential employer wants to discuss to ensure a targeted and reliable reference check. For example, they should contact your past and current subordinates if they are interested in gaining insights into your leadership style. If the focus is on evaluating your strategic skills, they should contact your supervisors. When assessing teamwork, your colleagues or peers would have the best insights.

Ask for permission: Always obtain permission from potential references before sharing their contact information with prospective employers. Asking for permission is respectful and ensures that your references are prepared and willing to provide a positive and informed recommendation on your behalf. Also, ensure you have their correct contact information including current title, email and cell number. Find out if they are going to be unavailable in the next few weeks/months in case they have planned a trip overseas or otherwise unreachable.

Prepare your references: Brief your references on the job you’re applying for, your recent work, and any specific skills or experiences the employer might inquire about. Remind them of your accomplishments and working style at the previous job, specifically those relevant to the role, and coach them on what you want them to say. It is helpful to send them a copy of your resume and the job description to ensure they have relevant information.

Follow up and keep your references updated: Let them know when you’ve shared their information and when they can expect to be contacted. Keep them in the loop about your job search progress. If you know they have been contacted, express gratitude and let them know you appreciate their efforts regardless of the outcome.


References are more than just names on a list; they are your champions in the job search journey. As you progress through the reference check phase, remember that your references reflect your professional reputation. Their words can influence the employer’s decision and set the stage for your success in a new role. So, choose wisely, ask for permission, and prepare your references thoughtfully. Once the process is underway, keep your references informed and express gratitude, regardless of the outcome.


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