Good professional references are essential when searching for a new job, but what makes a reference good? And how can you prepare them to be as helpful as possible when the hiring manager or recruiter calls? Here’s a quick guide.

Choose Wisely

Employers want to see a 360-degree view of your achievements, impact, and working style. Choose two or more supervisors, a peer, and someone at the organization who was a recipient of your work. Each reference should give a different lens into your performance:

  • Supervisors are highly credible references because it is their job to assess your performance. They can provide details about your measurable, objective impact. Supervisors can also discuss your job competencies and how you have grown professionally.
  • Peers can talk about your overall strengths and what it’s like to work with you.
  • A recipient of your work can provide input on how you completed specific projects.

If you cannot list two supervisors (for example, early career professionals may only have their current supervisor as an option), communicate that to the recruiter or hiring manager and ask who else they would like to speak with.

There may also be cases where you think a supervisor’s review might be less than favorable for reasons unrelated to your performance on the job. Try to find another supervisor or senior-level executive at the organization who can speak to your skills and abilities. And if you must list a reference you are worried about, talk to the hiring manager or recruiter about your concerns.

Ask Permission

Ask permission before giving anyone’s information to a recruiter or hiring manager. There may be reasons a person cannot provide a reference for you that you are unaware of. A reference will usually be happy to help, but it is a (necessary) courtesy to ask.

Give Context

Ideally, your references will provide credibility for how you described your work during interviews. When you reach out, give them context, including:

  • The title of the role, the name of the organization, and some general information about the work.
  • Depending on your career level and experience, point to the knowledge, skills, and abilities you are excited to bring to the role. It may be helpful to remind your reference of a project or initiative you worked on that demonstrates those skills.
  • Let them know how they will be contacted, by who, and roughly when. Be sure to ask the hiring manager or recruiter for this information if they haven’t shared it with you.

More Resources

If your reference checks go well, you’ll be reviewing your new job offer soon and (potentially) a counteroffer from your current employer. Here is some guidance to help: