Everything You Need to Know About Job References

Job references can make or break your job search. Find out when you'll need references and who you should trust on your reference list.

Photo: ThinkStock

By Christopher Geno

Job references are one of the most important steps in the interview process. Your list of references and what those references have to say about you can be the thing that separates you from the other qualified candidates.

Going through job references is typically one of the last hurdles before the decision is made to hire someone, so you should make sure that you have good, well-spoken references who can tell a potential employer the best qualities about you.

How many job references do I need?

Generally, your list of references should contain at least four references. A fifth and sixth can come in handy when a personal reference is necessary. When asked to provide references, you can typically give a company two or three professional and one personal.

The number of references you have doesn’t make much of a difference to employers, the quality is what they care about. Remember that if you have three solid references, adding a fourth that isn’t as good may just hurt you.

Always follow the directions given by your prospective employer. If they ask for three references, give three references. Remember though, they might call them all or choose one at random so make sure they are all quality job references who will speak well on your behalf.

Who should I list as a job reference?

Most employers prefer that your professional references are supervisors, managers, or anyone you’ve worked under. It’s important that these people know about your capabilities so use only job references with whom you’ve worked closely.

Your personal reference should be someone who you have known a long time and is not a relative. It helps if your personal reference is a professional, active member of his or her community, or a mentor of some kind.

How do I format my list of references?

Your job references format should be simple and easy to read. All you’re doing is listing references, and you’ve already turned in your application and been interviewed, so only pertinent information should be given.

Your job references format should include the reference’s first and last name, the company they work for, and their position at that company. You should include the city and state where they work, their phone number and their email address.

You should title this list simply: “Job References for (Your Name)” is just fine. Typically you’ll just be transferring your job reference list to their standard application so don’t get stuck on the details of making your reference list perfect.

What is a background check?

A background check for employment is when your company compiles a list of any criminal, commercial or financial records you have available to the public. They are typically done by companies as safeguards against fraud and to make sure that you are a citizen legally able to work. In addition, they check to see if you have any criminal records you might have withheld during the interview process.

Having anything on a record does not mean you will be denied a job, but it is a good thing to discuss relevant information during the interview process so employers are aware of this before they do background checks.

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