6 Ways to Get the Job References You Need

There’s no better way for employers to get direct input about someone than from a reference.

While it might be easy for you to find people who will say nice things about you, you should focus more on those who can speak to your attributes and experiences that would make you right for the job. If it is a global position for instance, or at a company that just went through a merger, you will want to prepare your reference to talk about your experience in those areas.

Here are six more ways I recommend securing the most effective references:

1. Refresh your list.

Experts say one common mistake job candidates make is using the same references over and over. Even though you may still be close, a former manager from 10 years ago may not be an appropriate reference anymore. It’s not a bad idea to have different lists of references for different jobs, tailoring them to the particular industry, company, or aspects of the role.

2. Find mutual connections.

LinkedIn profiles let people know the connections they have in common. If one of your friends or former colleagues knows the hiring manager, use them as a reference. The one caveat, however, is to be sure the connection is a “warm” one. People often blindly connect with each other on LinkedIn, so double-check that the person making the hiring decision has a real relationship with your reference.

3. Match reference to role.

According to a recent Amazon survey, roughly 60% of people who lost their job during the pandemic have or are looking to switch careers. Instead of speaking to how you perform in a specific job or industry, use references who can speak to your transferable skills. If the new role is with a start-up, for instance, a reference who can illustrate your agility in juggling multiple tasks could certainly help.

4. Diversify.

Use your references to demonstrate the diverse relationships you have developed and kept as your career has progressed. Don’t just use your last three former managers. Maybe a junior employee you managed might be a better choice if the new role requires managing a young team, for instance.

5. Personal connections matter.

Job candidates tend to think of references solely in a professional context, meaning people they have worked for or with. But personal connections can serve as valuable references as well, particularly as emotional intelligence, soft skills, and purpose factor more heavily into hiring decisions now. Teachers, community contacts, or people you volunteer with may be better than professional colleagues to talk about your interpersonal skills, traits, and characteristics.

6. Get their references.

If you are serious about a job, you owe it to yourself to talk to as many people as possible about the company and your potential new boss. For the sake of your future success, you should have a good idea of what you’re getting into before you take the leap.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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