It’s important to have an arsenal of references at the ready during your job search. Here’s how to select the right ones.

Who will give me a good recommendation? Will they mention those mistakes I made in the first week? Choosing the best references to place on your list is one of the most important decisions you will make during the job search.

Most employers want a list of references to attest to your abilities, skills, and integrity. They also wish to speak to people who witness your work and can report on day-to-day career activities. Most importantly, they want to verify the information you provided is accurate. Some applicants, however, do not know who to put on their list or how many, as well as hot not to incorporate them into their resume writing.

No in-laws, outlaws, or kin, please!

The first rule of thumb is to never, ever, place family members on your reference list. But rules are meant to be broken. If you worked as a carpenter for Uncle Bob's Table Repair Shop, of course, you list him. But this is the exception to the rule. Only list family who have directly supervised you and only for a job directly applicable to the one you're applying for.

Toss the letters of recommendation

Admit it; those generic letters are boring and annoying. After ten years with a company, wouldn't they write a better letter? Employers want to read specifics about your work, not some form letter prepopulated with fluff. When asking your former employer to write a recommendation, mention some of your attributes and contributions. Ask them to include those in the letter. Should they send a generic letter, toss it, and say thanks.

There is a time and a place for everything

And resumes are not the place for references. A resume is used to show your best attributes, key skills, training and education, experience and summary of your career. Do not list references at the bottom. Not only does this throw off the formatting, but references are used after the interview. Instead of including a list of references in your resume writing, type “References available upon request” at the end of the resume. This appears professional and doesn't assume anything.

Be strategic, and don't overuse your sources

Choosing references should be a careful process. Don't just list a group of people you think will speak positively on your behalf. Talk to those references. Ask them what they will say if contacted. Go over some of the information you think they will need to verify. Follow up with an email so you have a written confirmation. Select references who are legitimate. For example, don't ask the company secretary to attest to your computer proficiencies, unless you worked on a specific project.


Once you've selected the references for your list, use a format similar to the resume. Select stationary and a header that not only is professional but pleasant as well. Keep the list fresh, and check in with your references to refresh their memories and ensure they still want to be a reference. Some people decide later on not to recommend anyone for personal reasons. Most importantly, return the favor. Offer to recommend your references in the future. Take them out to lunch, and send thank you cards when they give you a positive recommendation. Remember, what goes around comes around.

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