So you’ve found the perfect job and are ready to submit your application? Don’t make the common mistake of forgetting to identify and coach your references in advance! The last thing you want is for your prospective employer to call one of your references and have their conversation go something like this:

  • Employer: Hello, this is Bob Smith from XYZ Company calling in regards to a reference check for Ima Knight. She applied for a position with our company and listed you as a professional reference.
  • Your Reference: Ima Knight?… (long, silent pause)… Oh, I think she worked for me several years ago, but it’s been ages since I’ve heard from her. What did you want to know?

What is most likely to occur during the rest of this conversation is that this reference will be on edge the entire time, feeling as if they have been put on the spot, and eager for the call to be over. They’re going to be unsure of the information they are providing about you and afraid to say anything beyond the very basic fact that you worked for them and showed up to work… not what you want.

What you do want is for your reference to be expecting the call and prepared to talk about why you are a great employee and the right candidate for the job. Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your references are ready for the reference check call:

  • Once you’ve identified your references, get in contact by phone or email to let them know you are applying for the position.

Note: Be selective when identifying references. Obviously, you want to pick people who have had a positive experience working with you and will say great things about you, but you also want to focus on references that can vouch for the quality of your work and your work ethic. Previous supervisors, professors, clients, mentors, and business peers are good choices.

  • Ask if they are comfortable with you listing them as a reference (a.k.a. ask for permission). Let them know there is no pressure and that you understand if they prefer not to be listed. You never want to list someone as a reference if they have reservations about it, because they may not provide an employer with positive feedback or be the greatest reference.
  • Give them a brief overview of the position. If you are sending an email, it’s even better if you attach the job description or provide a link to the job post, so they can take their time reading about the position when they have an opportunity.
  • Provide them with a copy of your resume so they have a refresher about your education and experience, among other things.
  • Let them know why you are interested and how this job fits into your career plan.
  • Tell them the name and title of the person who may contact them. You may find out this information later in the process, and it is fine to send your references a follow-up email with these details. The individual contacting them will likely be the person who scheduled your interview or the person who actually interviewed you.

Landing a job is a puzzle that has several important pieces… selecting and coaching your references is definitely one of those. While most jobseekers are on their game about crafting a great resume, practicing interview skills and picking out a killer interview outfit, selecting and coaching references can sometimes be an afterthought and one of the forgotten pieces. Just in case there is any room for doubt… YES, references are important; YES, most employers do actually call them; and YES, they can make or break you landing that perfect job, so don’t underestimate the importance of the References puzzle piece!


Sara Garcia

Career Coach – Finance & Real Estate