“You’ve got the right person for the job”: How to fast-track your job application by lining up the perfect reference

Employers sometimes ask for a reference from potential candidates in order to get a second opinion on their candidature. Therefore, it's crucial to line up someone who knows you well and can provide valuable insight on your skills and knowledge.


Recruitment and selection is an important activity for all organizations. Selecting the right person for the right job is crucial to improving job fit, productivity, absenteeism, retention and a host of other things. Due to this, many organizations prefer to get a second opinion on the candidate(s) they have considered for a particular job. The best and most commonly employed method of eliciting this second opinion is by asking the candidate for references. 

Who is an ideal reference?

An ideal reference is somebody who:

- Knows you well. This person should be able to give credible answers to the interviewer's questions on your skills, strengths, weaknesses, personality, etc. 

- Has worked with you in a (preferably) professional capacity. For those of you who don't have work experience, you can list a teacher, mentor, etc. 

- Has a good impression of you. Make sure the person is on good terms with you. 

- Is willing to be listed as a reference. Some organizations have confidentiality laws and might not be willing to divulge anything more than your employment dates, which wouldn't really help your case. 

- Knows he/she is being listed as a reference (well in advance). As you embark on your job search, you should get your references on board. Come up with a list of 3-5 individuals who you feel can provide valuable insight on your candidature.  Make sure you inform them well before time that they are likely to be offered as your reference. 

Basic Rules to Follow

Before we dive further into preparing your reference(s) for a call from a potential employer, here are some basic rules to keep in mind:

For your resume 
1. Don't Overshare

It's a bad idea to include references on your resume if the recruiter / hiring manager hasn't requested for it. You won't have any idea if/when the recruiter will reach out to your reference. By not sharing your references until asked for, you are ensuring that you stay in control. 

2. Avoid writing "References Upon Request"

It's actually assumed by the employer that you would provide references if asked for. Therefore it is a redundant exercise to write "References Upon Request" and will actually take up valuable space on your resume. 

After your Interview
3. You needn't share your references immediately

At the end of the interview, should the interviewer ask for your references, offer to provide the names and other details within a day or two. Use this time to reach out to your references, check their availability and also provide them with the context. More details on the reference preparation process have been shared below. 

How to Prep your References 

Prepping your references is a crucial process. What they speak of you and whether it will turn the tables in your favor or not is dependent on how well you execute it. This step should be carried out immediately after your interview, before sharing the final list of references with your potential employer. 

1. Make sure they will speak favorably of you

You need to ensure that your reference(s) will speak highly of you and your work. You should ask them if they are comfortable to give you a good reference for this job. Only proceed with those who are comfortable.  

2. Supply the context

In order to make sure their inputs are useful and relevant for your potential employer, you should provide the right context to them. This means that you should share the following information:

  • the name of the organization
  • the job designation
  • a job description
  • what skills / achievements of yours that you would like them to highlight
  • any projects / relevant experience of yours that you would like them to share

This will help them get good talking points which will translate into a glowing recommendation for you when your potential employer calls them up. 

3. Confirm their contact details 

You don't want to list outdated contact details on your reference list. Make sure you get in touch with your references to cross-check their contact details before sharing the list with your future employer. 

Final Tips 

To get the most out of your reference, keep the following tips in mind:

1. Avoid listing any family members as references as employers always assume their opinions will be biased. 

2. Ensure that the references you listed are current and new. In other words, it's a huge red flag if your references are all old (e.g. from your first job despite holding three more jobs after that) and nobody from your more recent organizations. 

3. Thank your references. Don't forget to send them a note / an email expressing your gratitude for their help, regardless of the outcome. You need to let them know that you appreciate their kindness so that they will be willing to be your reference in the future as well. 

Download List of '30 Questions to Avoid on Your Resume"

Maximize your chances of success with these tips. A good reference can make the difference between getting the job or continuing with your job search.

Questions for Reflection

How do you prepare your references for a call?

What criteria do you consider before deciding whether to include a person as a reference or not?

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Chaitra K

With a background in Literature and Psychology, and an MBA in Human Resources Management, Chaitra is responsible for the design and production of NKoach’s courses, workshops and corporate training programs. Her mission is to help people discover their passion and become better versions of themselves.

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