Frequently Asked Questions about References

Career Blog

Published: September 5, 2020 by iSchool Career Advisor

I have received several questions about the use of references in the job search and interview process. Here are just a few of the questions and answers.

Q: How important are the people I choose to be my references? Does it really make a difference and do employers really call them?

A: First, assume that most employers do check references and asking them about it just might imply that you have something to hide. Play it safe and assume that if they ask for references, they will call them.

Secondly, references can make a HUGE difference in you getting a job or not getting a job. Make sure you choose references that can speak to your unique skills and abilities as they relate to the particular position in which you are applying. You can coach your references about key points you would like them to discuss. It can also be helpful to provide your references a copy of the job description of the position you have interviewed for and the most recent copy of your resume for their review.

Here’s a good example. I was on a search committee and we had narrowed down our top three candidates and rank ordered them with our top choice, second, and third. After calling the candidate’s references, our number three person actually became our top choice. The reference told us what we wanted to hear and filled in gaps for us about the interviewee’s skills, strengths, qualifications, and work style. He was able to provide us a clear picture of what this person could do and how they would add value to our team. The other candidate’s references were good but they were not able to connect the candidate’s skills well enough to what we were looking for.

Q: If I have room on the bottom of my resume, is it OK to list my references?

A: Never list your references directly on your resume. They should be listed on a separate sheet of paper and submitted only when specifically requested by the employer. You also want to avoid including the statement, “References Available upon Request” at the bottom of your resume. This is a dated technique and it is not needed.

Q: Do I have to use my current supervisor as a reference? What if I only worked there a short time or we didn’t have the best relationship? Won’t it be a red flag if I don’t include my current supervisor?

A: It is not necessary to use a current supervisor or even a past supervisor as a reference, and it is not a red flag if you don’t. Remember, you want to select people who can do the best job speaking to your strengths and abilities and that might not always be a supervisor. You have the choice to determine who you wish to include on your reference list. Of course you need to always ask for permission first and ensure that the potential reference is willing to be a positive reference for you. So think big in terms of who you might ask.

For more information on who to choose as a reference and how to use them effectively in your job search, check out the References – Who and How section under Interviewing on our Career Development website.


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