4 Things To Consider When Gathering Job References

Having professional references is essential to the job search process.

When looking to take the next step in your career or leaping into a new one, it's important to have solid references who can attest to your talents and work ethic.

References may be asked to submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf, or you may simply be asked to provide a list of a few references. Either way, the references you choose to list may make or break your application.

Here are four things you should consider when picking your job references:

How Recent Is Your Relationship?

Two former colleagues chat.Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Although your 2nd grade teacher always had a soft spot for you and still likes every one of your Facebook posts, he or she may not be the best person to list as a reference. Yes, they may have glowing things to say about you, but can they really attest to the wonderful person you are today or do they just know your 8-year-old self?

Try to list people who you've had a positive relationship with recently. Whether that's your last employer, supervisor, or mentor, make sure your references are up-to-date and can vouch for the person you are today.

When considering your most recent references, start by going back two years and work from there.

Are You Proud Of The Work You Did With/For Them?

Young professional works outside.


Yes, it is important for your references to be people you've had a recent relationship with. However, you do not need to use your most recent employer or supervisor if you aren't completely proud of the work you did for them or the company.

Not every working relationship or employment will be something you want to bring into your next role—and that's okay! If the work you did with or for someone or their company is not something you are happy to show off then don't use that individual as a reference.

Your references should be people you are comfortable with and you know will have great things to say about your work. Your references are another avenue for a potential employer to see the value you can add to their company.

Have You Changed Since You Worked With Your Potential Reference?

Young professionals work in a common space.Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

When a person who you worked closely with writes you a reference, or is called upon to give one, they will be speaking about their specific experiences with you. Assuming that those experiences were largely good, however, leads to more specific questions. Upon choosing a more recent reference, the question of how you've changed is of less importance.

However, you should always take stock of how you've grown as a person and as a colleague since you've last worked with your reference. Ask yourself if you still stand by the majority of choices you made during this past job. And ask if you did well according to both the standards of your past work environment, or, more importantly, your own. Hindsight is 20/20.

If you don't necessarily approach your job in the same way that you would have in the past, that's not a bad thing. As we grow as people, we can better understand our career paths. That being said, it creates disconnect to depict yourself as one kind of worker, and then have that depiction undermined by your own reference.

Is The Work You’ve Done Relevant To The Work You Want To Do?

Businesswoman keeps track of daily tasks.


Over the course of your life, it is likely that you may pursue a career change, and that's not necessarily a negative shift. Still, when asking for a reference, you should consider whether or not that reference is actually relevant. If the job you did with this person was in the field you are still interested in, then the likelihood of relevance is probably high.

Maybe you do not have a reference in the specific area you are currently looking for a job in, though. If this is the case, then acknowledge which skills and responsibilities are necessary for the job that you are applying for. If you've gained relevant skills in a past job within a separate field, a reference from that job could still be valuable to your future employer.

Your reference should be able to speak on your abilities. If their experiences with you cannot speak to your abilities in a way that suits the job you're pursuing, then it may be counterproductive. Instead, figure out what qualifies you for your next job, and then choose your references based on how you gained those qualifications.

Asking former co-workers and employers to support your job search is never the easiest thing in the world, nor might it be a priority. Nonetheless, preparing each material necessary is the first step in achieving your dream job. And references are a part of that. So, before jumping in, take careful thought to who best contributes to the conversation regarding your past.

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