Daddy Doesn’t Count: Selecting the Best References

The time to start thinking about who to list as references is not when a potential employer makes such a request. Unfortunately, however, many people don’t give the matter much thought until such a time. That puts them at a decided disadvantage because they have not taken the time to give careful consideration to who would be the most appropriate – and most effective – references to provide.

While many job-seekers assume that providing references is merely an exercise in futility, the fact is that most employers will contact at least one or two of the people listed. Great references can make the difference between getting a job or not. Therefore, it’s critically important to choose the right people and to present them properly.

Begin by brainstorming about who can speak most credibly about what you could bring to a potential employer. Don’t automatically assume you must list former supervisors, however. While some may give you a glowing recommendation, many company policies may prohibit them from serving as references for their former charges. In reality, former co-workers may be your best bet. After all, they’ve seen you on the job, they have firsthand knowledge of how you interact with others, and they know what you are capable of accomplishing.

Whenever possible, aim for several different types of references – those who are familiar with your accomplishments, skills, education, ethics and character. Opinions vary when it comes to whether it’s acceptable to list friends as references. It all comes down to what kind of friend (and person) they are. If you are thinking of listing someone who is basically just a drinking buddy, it’s probably best to abandon that idea. But if the friend in question is a respected professional, you’ll probably do fine to include them.

Most of the time, it is acceptable to include members of clergy among personal character references, along with former coaches, vendors, customers, teachers, mentors, and business acquaintances. However, it is never acceptable to list a family member, no matter how accomplished they may be. A potential employer simply cannot rely on them to be unbiased.

Don’t bother asking for “To Whom It May Concern” letters of recommendation. They are too generic and generally useless. Employers want to be able to contact your references themselves and pose specific questions about your strengths and weaknesses.

Before sharing anyone’s contact information with a potential employer, ask their permission to do so. If they seem the least bit uncomfortable with the idea, move on to the next person on your list. Whenever someone expresses their willingness to speak on your behalf, ensure you have their correct contact information, including name, title, business address, and email, along with daytime phone and cell numbers. Don’t forget to keep them posted about your job search and thank them, regardless of whether you get hired.

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