5 things you MUST ask when choosing references

Reference checks are now standard practice, so really everyone should have their reference people lined up WAY before the interview even happens. So how do you start? You’ll need to put together a list of possible candidates, and then from those candidates you must ask yourself who would best represent you. Remember you need to think like an employer!

1. Are they a work, character / personal, or volunteer reference?

It’s a good idea to have a few under each category, especially if you are going for several different positions or changing careers. Although more and more employers are requesting work related references only, you can include these other types if it isn’t specified and don’t forget about teachers or trainers!

2. What skills, attributes and experience can they speak to?

If they can’t say anything about you other then that you worked for them or they’re unclear on what you actually did, then they won’t be a good reference. However, if they’re a recent employer you may have no choice, in this case your other work references need to be stronger and able to speak to what this employer can’t. Consider supervisors or co-workers as additional options.

3. Can they even be a reference?

Be aware of company policies regarding references, for example those who work in sectors with vulnerable persons, such as children, victims of violence or other protected persons will find that confidentiality may be an issue.

4. Is distance an issue?

If your references are not local or are a great distance from HR, try to get their email or if possible a 1-800 number, few employers would be willing to incur extra costs unless they have a great long distance plan!

5. Reference letter vs. Reference call

Many employers prefer to give reference letters yet it’s often these same employers who won’t accept them when hiring new staff! To be honest this is perfectly understandable, wouldn’t you rather talk to a living, breathing person?

Lastly, even though most employers will ask for 3 reference people, always have at least 5 lined up. With vacations, sick or MAT leaves you don’t want to be down a person at the last second.


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