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Choosing professional referees that will get you across the line

​Reference checks are often the last stage of the job application process, and their importance is often overlooked and underestimated by candidates. A bad reference check can potentially change a Recruiter or Hiring Manager's mind about their intent to hire you – leading them to think you aren't the right person for the job.

While you can't control the feedback that somebody might have about you, making sure that you manage the selection of and communication with a referee can help to optimise the outcome. To help you ahead of your next job application, we've put together a guide for using professional references:

Choose relevant referees

While it might seem obvious, it's important to choose professional referees who are relevant to your career such as a previous or current manager, supervisor, colleague, client or even educator. You should avoid ever listing a personal friend or family member as a professional reference if you can (even if you have previously worked for a family run business), as they probably won't give objective and unbiased opinions.

You should also never list friends or family under the guise that they are a professional reference – as a quick Google or LinkedIn search is all it takes to verify this information. Not only is it dishonest, but if caught out it can lead to you missing out on a job offer, or being dismissed further down the line. It is better to use legitimate professional references than to risk the damage to your reputation and career.

Ask permission

Before listing anybody as a referee, you absolutely need to ask for their permission first. Having a referee who is caught off guard and is obviously not prepared will reflect poorly on you – potentially costing you a job offer. You should also never assume that somebody is comfortable giving you a professional reference – and if they are unexpectedly contacted to give you one, it might not work in your favour.

When asking a potential referee for permission, you should take the time to call them or catch up with them in person rather than just shooting them an email. After all, they are going to be doing you a favour so it's important to be appreciative and respectful of that.

Find out their preferred method of contact

You should also make sure that when you ask somebody to be your referee, you ask for their preferred method of contact. If somebody is busy during business hours and is unable to take a phone call, it might be easier for them to respond to an email after hours. Finding out this information ahead of time can ensure that the Recruiter or Hiring Manager is able to conduct the reference check as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Touch base with them

Just as you should ask your referees for permission, you should also touch base with them and let them know how your job search is going. If you have had a successful interview and you know the Recruiter or Hiring Manager is going to contact them, let your referee know when to expect a call. You should also give them some basic background information on the position and company you've applied for.

If you still have referees listed from the last time you applied for a job several years ago, you will also need to contact them again and check that it is still okay to use them. Chances are they have forgotten they agreed to be your referee, and might have changed their mind or need are fresher of your past work history together. Their contact details might have also changed in this time, so touching base will allow you to update this information.

Thank them

Regardless of the outcome of your application, always make sure you thank your referees for taking the time to give you a professional reference. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but they will likely remember how appreciative you were and be more willing to help you with future applications.

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