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Phoenix Forward

7 tips for choosing the best job references

References can help you land the job

You’ve nailed the job interview, and your prospective employer is asking for references. Do you give professional contacts, personal references … bosses you gladly left behind?

“If your references are used correctly, they can be the difference between securing a job offer and advancing through the interview process,” says Dwayne Jakes, owner of a management consulting firm and area chair for the management program at the University of Phoenix Columbus-Georgia Campus.

Here are seven tips for creating the best reference list:


Ask for permission before creating your list.

Diane Deaton, a director and independent consultant with storybook creator Heritage Makers, and an area chair for management and organizational behavior at the University of Phoenix Kansas City Campus, says job seekers always need to get permission to list a person as a reference.


List supervisors first.

Deaton says past supervisors are the most valuable references, followed by second-level managers. Employers want to talk with bosses who have worked with you in the past. “Just be sure,” she says, “the person you give as a reference knows about your work.”


Choose references that are easy to contact.

“Use references that can be located by the employer,” Jakes adds. “If the employer cannot talk to your references, he or she will move on to another candidate.” Jakes advises against using people who travel frequently and never return phone calls as references.


Avoid those who may not give you a glowing review.

“Do not choose references that may not speak positively about your character or work history,” Jakes advises. “I would not list an employer who had hostility toward me because he or she will not be truthful in assessing your qualifications.”


Pick people who will make you look good by association.

“Be sure the people you choose are polite and respectful of others, as you do not want someone to treat your potential new boss rudely,” Deaton says.


Select a diverse array of references.

Jakes also suggests choosing references that accurately represent your activities and interests, including a preacher, a teacher, a community leader or a nonprofit volunteer whom you’ve worked with in the past — in addition to past business colleagues.

“Engaging with this diverse list of people should provide a rounded view,” he says, “of how a candidate interacts with people at different levels internally and externally.”


Keep your references up to date on your career status.

“Communicate and contact your sources frequently to update changes to your resumé or jobs [that] may have occurred,” Jakes says. “Do not assume your references know what you are doing and [where] you are currently working.”

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