How to Get Your References Together

What would you say is the most important part of the job application process? It’s likely that you’re thinking about the resume or the CV – perhaps thinking it’s the interview you must nail to get the job. While these are all important aspects of the application process, you might be overlooking an important part of the process: the references.

This can be a big mistake –The Society for Human Resource Management found in a study that references are in the top three of selection strategies used by hiring managers when selecting suitable candidates for different roles. If you don’t get your references together in a properly fashion, you might be hindering your chances of landing that dream job.

In this guide, we’ll examine how to create a reference list, select the right references, nurture those reference relationships and ask the question the right way. In the end, we’ll give a few tips on what to do after you’ve had people agree to act as a reference.


In an ideal world, you should have organised your references together well before you started job searching. You never know when you might be looking for a new role and it can help to have this thing sorted out – it’ll take off a tiny bit of the stress away that comes from hunting for a new role. It’s a good idea to have a list of references ready for when you need them. If you are just starting your job search, then sort out the references before you move on. It’ll help you deal with everything else later down the line.

The idea is to have a list of references – perhaps as an Excel spreadsheet or a Word-file, or you can use these LiveCareer.com templates – that you can keep updating as you move from one role to another and gain more experience. You can check the list every six months to ensure you always have relevant names listed and perhaps move around those who might not make a good reference any longer (more on a good reference in the next section). This overall reference list can have six to ten names at any time.

You can then use the list to compile the reference list to give to a potential employer during the job hunt. This should be a basic document, separate from your resume and CV – with similar formatting – which you will hand out to the hiring manager when they ask for it.

In this file, you will need to present the names of three to four references. The information you want to include is:

Information about the reference

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Employer/business
  • Contact information

The connection

  • A short description of the link between you and the reference

This document shouldn’t stay stagnant either. As we’ll discuss in the next section, different connections make good references at different times. It’s important to pick the references in your list based on the role you are applying for.

So don’t treat a reference list like the ultimate truth – keep updating it and tweaking it each time you are applying for a role and in between applications.


Who you choose as your reference can make a big difference. It’s important to avoid just listing anyone you know and using random people as the reference. The hiring manager will read between the lines when it comes to evaluating you’ve chosen as a reference – your best friend from high school might talk nice things about you but it just isn’t as good of a recommendation as your ex-boss’.

So, who are the best people to ask to be your references? These are:

  • Former or current bosses and managers
  • Your co-workers
  • Your current or previous clients
  • Vendors and third-party providers you’ve worked with closely
  • Your academic connections such as professors and tutors

These people are good because they know your skills and professional talent the best. You are looking for a job and all the above can have something to say about your work ethic and talent.

If you are struggling to find references in the above categories, it is possible to get a character or personal references. This type of reference won’t focus on your professional skills and achievements quite as extensively but it will talk more about your other characteristics and the kind of person you are.

These can come from a friend but you ideally want to pick someone with a reputable position and strong connection to you. If you’ve volunteered or been part of another non-work organisation, you could use someone you know from these groups. It could also be a spiritual leader or a sports coach, for example.

Are there people that don’t make a good reference? Well, you shouldn’t ever ask a family member to be your reference – even if it’s a character reference. You should also remember that your reference doesn’t have to be your current employer or a colleague. Indeed, you probably don’t want to do this if they are unaware of your job hunting. But in any case, the reference doesn’t have to be the most current professional connection.

So, you have an idea on who to ask now. But it’s also important to not just pick a reference from one of the above groups. You also want to pick a good reference – but what is a good reference? You definitely want to use the below tips in mind when choosing your references during your job search.


The bottom line is to get your reference list sorted as soon as possible, whether you are looking for a job now. A good reference relationship is something that’s forged well before they are contacted for an opinion about you – you need to nurture your professional relationships to ensure you won’t find it difficult to receive a positive reference.

Therefore, you want to stay professional with people around you and keep a list of possible references whether you are job hunting now or in the future. Ask the person politely and provide enough information for them to make a good case of why you should be hired.

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