How To Impress Employers With Your References

Professional references tend to be an afterthought in the job search. The vast majority of people simply shoot an email to a handful of past and current colleagues or managers and let them know that somebody may be calling them. Instead of viewing a references a mere formality, you should consider using them as yet another way to impress potential employers and stand out amongst the throngs of other candidates.


Before we show you how to add a wow factor to your references, let’s review some seemingly obvious mistakes to avoid.


  • Don’t provide them with your resume. Or mention on your resume that References Are Available Upon Request. It should go without saying that you will have references and nobody needs to see them until you are further along in the interview process. Plus, mentioning your references on the resume takes up valuable space where you could be talking about other, much more important things.

  • Don’t forget let to your references know that somebody will be contacting them. The last thing you want is for somebody to be blind-sided by an HR manager. First, ask their permission to use them as a reference, and if they agree, give them plenty of notice and maybe even remind them of some specific characteristics or achievements they could mention.

  • Don’t have all your references come from the same place. Even if you’ve only worked for one company, branch out and ask a long-term client, business partner, or fellow member of a community organization to speak on your behalf.

  • Don’t ask for a letter from your current manager – if they don’t know you’re looking for a job. There are much better ways to tell your current company that you’re open to other opportunities outside the company.


So how can you avoid sending HR managers the same old boring references page that everybody else presents? Step outside the box and create a References Dossier that goes beyond the traditional list of name, job title, company, phone number, and email address. Yes, you’ll still want to include that information, but in addition to that, describe how you know the person, what your working relationship entailed, and specific skills and accomplishments that this person can detail.

Here is an example of a References Dossier I wrote for a recent client. Feel free to use it as a template the next time you need to submit your references.

References Dossier Example


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