Do references matter?

Do references matter?

In short, yes. You should always have 2-3 good references in your back pocket…

References – surprisingly – are fairly controversial. But, a lot of companies want them, and…no one asked me, but I think getting a few outside perspectives before you offer someone a lot of money is a great idea.

BUT, I have seen references backfire…on GOOD candidates and jobseekers!


Well, some jobseekers simply give the wrong people as references. And, some give out a few names without giving those references any context as to what is going on.

What do I mean?

When I’m working with a candidate who is in the interview process, an ideal reference will:
a) Confirm what the candidate tells me (were they a project manager at company X from Y year to Z year?)
b) Give more information about the candidate’s work product (be able to name specific obstacles the candidate overcame or give examples of specific accomplishments)
c) Tell me what the candidate is like as a person day-to-day (are they always in a good mood at work, do they have a dry sense of humor that comes out after a few weeks of comfort? etc.)

The best set of references I have taken generally have these thing in common:
1) They echo the same themes over and over (“Jane is the type that comes in early, stays late, but still somehow puts family first”).
2) They provide new information: the references can talk about their unique relationship with the candidate and can talk about how that candidate supported their unique career goals.
3) They talk BEYOND the reference form. I, like many people, have a set of questions I ask references to get the conversation going. Really good references usually want to add information.

On the other hand, some questionable references are not always BAD (although, those DO happen!), but often they are just UNHELPFUL. Some examples:
-The reference is SURPRISED by my call. Sometimes, they hardly remember working with the person who gave them as a reference.
-The reference is a friend, pastor, relative, or someone else outside the industry.
-The reference is genuinely a quiet, shy person and tries to answer every prompt with the shortest phrases possible.
-The reference simply doesn’t call back or respond to emails after days of request.

So, some tips:
😀 If you have worked closely with other professionals and you are in the job search, select references that will be okay (or happy) to have a chat when a recruiter calls.
⏰ Remind your references about your work timelines and name the projects or tasks you did together.
👩‍⚕️ Tell them what types of jobs you’re exploring and reiterate your career goals
❓ Finally, make sure your references know that an unknown number may call.

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