Job References – Are You Firing Up Your Cheering Squad?

Many years ago, I received a phone call from a colleague which was rather startling.

The colleague’s company was in the final stages of the hiring process and conducting due diligence on one of the finalist’s job references. No problem, I told the caller, but silently wondered who it was, because no one in my network had given me a heads up about any upcoming job interviews/reference checks.

Well, it got even better. I was stunned when the caller said the name of the person. Not only did this applicant put me down as a reference, I had not ever worked with them directly, nor had that person contacted me to ASK my permission to even be a reference. On top of that, the person in question was someone I knew vaguely, but personally regarded as pretty creepy. I had seen some of their business tactics in a larger arena which I also didn’t feel matched my own values and ethics.

Ew, I thought, and quickly added that job seeker to my very small “not-so-happy” list. There aren’t many people on there, but let me tell you, from my perspective, I had worked too hard to build my professional integrity to let someone use it for their own gain when they didn’t have any of their own. Grrr…..

Quickly trying to recover, and cognizant of the fact that one has to be ever careful about one says in a legal context, I replied to the colleague’s inquiry: “Gosh, I wish I could provide a job reference for this person, but I am a little surprised that this person had put me down in that capacity. I haven’t worked with them directly and therefore can honestly say that I can’t provide any kind of insight from that perspective.”


Fast-forward. A different situation where someone that I had interacted with as an industry colleague was applying for a job at the company where I worked. As application for this position, the person sent their resume and a cover letter to the hiring manager, who walked down the hall to chat with me to find out more. From the hiring manager’s comments, it sounded like the person had referred to me in an ‘ole buddy, ole pal’ kind of context, when in fact, this job seeker and I had never even gone to lunch socially. Our interactions were fairly limited and in fact, a lot of the projects I had worked on with that person came back to me full of errors, were constantly late, and never really followed the project direction, which required extensive re-working on my end.


Some people sure a lot of guts, don’t they?

Of course, the truth is that the majority of us would never be this unethical about our job references.

But here’s the nugget: A job applicant can spend hours working on their resume and cover letter, preparing exhaustively in the interview, nail the interview, but if they FAIL TO PUT DOWN A STRONG JOB REFERENCE LIST or neglect to inform their job references about specific job openings / potential interviews, the whole thing can get blown out the window. Case closed. Game over.

The whole job interview process has many different layers, and your professional and personal references have a huge impact as the final ‘say’ about your reputation, skills, and viability as a candidate.

Many of us have a list of references that we’ve developed for just that purpose, but here are some questions that you need to ask yourself to find out if you are really firing up what should be your ultimate cheering squad:

1) Have you thought strategically about the types of references you have listed? What aspects of your background can each person speak to? Think education, skills, work ethic, character, initiative, accomplishments and performance. The last thing you want to have is a list of “buddies” that are basically only friends but have no first-hand knowledge of your job abilities.

2) Did you ask the references whether you could list them? (And mention specifically why you chose them?)

3) When was the last time you talked to any of your references? Have you ‘refreshed’ any of those contacts lately?

4) Are you still on good terms with each of the people listed?

5) Do the references know what you are up to, in terms of your career?

6) Did you contact them about any upcoming interviews that you are having?

7) If so, did you let them know some of the key points that you’d like them to speak to if they are called?

8) Do you have all of their current / updated contact information listed? Complete information is critical to helping the prospective employer reach the reference quickly.

9) Have you listed your references on a separate sheet of paper? (This should NOT be listed on your resume… ever!) And if you have, did you format the page so it has the same ‘brand’ as your resume and cover letter?

10) Have you THANKED the references for their help? A simple note is a great way to express your appreciation for them being in your corner. Better yet, treat them to lunch, and use this as an opportunity catch up / refresh that connection!

Remember, you need to view your job reference list as your A-team who is ready and willing to help you land your next job. These are the people who will be the ones putting the icing on the cake that you’ve just finished with your interview, resume and cover letter.  Firing them up is essential to total follow through on all aspects of the interview process… with a simple quick phone call, you can give them the courtesy heads up so that they are prepared to put you in the best light possible to prospective employers!    The important thing to think about is that these folks are your cheering squad members.   Go team!