References have been near standard for resumes and job searching for a long time. They can help seal the deal on a new job, or help find you new opportunities. However, what are they exactly, and how should you use them? We can help answer these questions.


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What are references?

References are essentially people who you have contact information for, who can put in a good word for you at the new company you’re applying to. A good reference can be anyone who does not have a personal stake in your career path. So, a former boss, a former mentor, or a former teacher from high school or college can make good additions to your list.

As such, family members, romantic partners, and subordinates are not good picks. These individuals may have ulterior motives for giving you a good review. They may feel compelled to, or they may feel like they stand to benefit from it somehow.

Oftentimes, a reference can be your ace in the hole for a new job. Other times, they can help you round out an otherwise below-average resume. Either way, references are generally helpful additions that you shouldn’t skip out on.


How should you use references?

While references can be a positive thing, thoughtless use of them can spell disaster. When using references, there are several things to keep in mind.


Who they are

Even if you did good work at a previous job, some individuals won’t recognize it. If a past supervisor never took notice of your good work, or if they made excuses about it and gave you a hard time, it might be wise to look elsewhere for a reference. Depending on the person, they may seem like they would give you a good review, but might make a 180-degree turn to stab you in the back. Ensure the person you want as your reference won’t say bad things about you in a phone call.

What they do

It may be a good idea to consider what your reference does or what their title is. It is always more impressive to list someone higher up on the chain of leadership than someone at the bottom. For example, it is a better idea to get a past supervisor for your list instead of a co-worker. If you can put the CEO or the owner of the company on your reference list as well, even better!

Your relationship with them

You should always consider the relationship you have, or had, with your reference. As a rule, you must ask them permission to be your reference. No one likes being randomly called about something they don’t know anything about. Not asking them permission might permanently ruin your relationship with them.

There are also some other things to consider. Are they someone who you’ve worked with recently? Did you have a good relationship with them while your worked with them? Did you leave a good impression with them? If the answer is yes to these question, keep that person on your list. If not, hold off on adding them. You definitely don’t want to include someone who may give you a bad review.

Conflicts of interest

Be careful not to add references who may be in conflict with the new job you’re going for.

  • You must avoid putting your current employers on your reference list. You want to make sure they don’t get called while you’re looking for a new job.
  • Second, make sure to carefully consider whether or not your reference is a direct competitor with the new company. While professionalism is assumed to be the default, you don’t want to have the contact go against you.
  • As we said before, don’t add anyone who has a personal or monetary stake in your career. That includes family members, spouses or partners, and friends. With friend, however, there may be certain exceptions.


References are easy to get right, but also just as easy to get wrong. Do you have your reference list in order but you’re still looking for a job? Contact us today to see how we can help.