Prep your references to help you win (not lose) the job

It is perfectly appropriate to call your references before an employer calls them. In fact, it's common courtesy. It's not “cheating” or breaking any rules. On the employer side, it is a breath of fresh air to call a reference who is ...

  • Expecting my call
  • Able to help me understand how the candidate’s past will translate into my future.

By the time a company calls on references, they want you to be the one! They are expecting the call to go well and hope the reference will simply validate what they are already thinking: that you’re going to be a great hire. Unfortunately, when the call comes as a surprise, even the best of friends can put concern in the hearts of employers. 

7 Steps for Prepping your References 

  1. Call each reference personally on the phone. This needs to be a live conversation so you can read any potential hesitation or confusion and deal with it. Charlie’s references were surprised to hear that he was interviewing for a job that was so different than the work he had done with them. Unfortunately, because this was a surprise to them, their confusion came across to the employer as a lack of confidence in his ability to get that job done. 
  2. Explain the specific job to them … and why you're interested in it. They need to understand the job you’re going after. Tell them more than just the company and job title. Tell them what you’ll really be doing, and if you know it what the measure of success will be. 
  3. Ask for their opinion about your “fit” for that job, and then be quiet and listen! Let them ask you questions. If they are confused, let them be confused with you, not the employer! If there are any gaps (real or perceived) about you and the job at hand, talk to your references about them! Your job is to make sure there are no surprises for your reference when they get that call. If you don’t know how to identify the gaps, watch our video in Step 1 called "Identify the Gaps."
  4. Ask them directly if they have any concerns about you taking the job. I tell you what: it is much better to uncover any reservations (and help them overcome them) than let it all unfold in the middle of a reference check.
  5. Tell them about any gaps or concerns the employer has about your “fit” for the job. Tell them how you plan to overcome the gap(s), and ask for their advice. They might have some great suggestions about how you can overcome the gaps. Best of all, when the reference check comes through, they’ll be ready to convince your future employer. 
  6. Lastly, make sure your reference are easy to reach by confirming their availability. Ask about the best time and place to reach them. It’s a terrible shame to lose a job to someone else simply because their references were more responsive that yours. Yes, it happens! Share their availability with the person doing the reference checks. This simple method of listing your references will make all the difference in the world: 

James Jones - Direct supervisor at ABC company from December 2012 – May 2015

Contact details: 612-612-6121 | |

Best time to reach James: Monday, Wednesday, Friday between 7-9am or 4-6pm via phone or email

  1.  Say thank you! Send your references a thank-you card or a small thank-you gift. When you ask someone to stand as a reference for you, you are asking them to put their reputation on the line for you. That’s a big deal! Honor that by going out of your way to show your appreciation. 

Not all companies check references. Many large companies have stopped making phone calls for reference checks. Instead, they send email surveys. No matter how they ask for feedback about you, I can assure you of one thing: they take that feedback seriously. 

The more they understand about the job, the better your references will do for you

Bottom line: the more your references know about a specific opportunity, the better they will represent you when an employer calls or emails them. You have come this far in the hiring process (and your job search). Do not leave your reference check success to chance!