The 5 Types of People You Should Have On Your Reference List

You've passed so many tests already—standing out in a pile of resumes, acing a phone interview, surviving multiple rounds of in-person interviews—and now it's time to overcome the final hurdle: the reference check. Hopefully you've already cultivated a well-rounded list of references. If not, here are the five types of references you should include to showcase why you're the right person for the job.

reference list

1. A Former Employer/Supervisor

A hiring manager wonders not only if a candidate can successfully perform the job, but also whether the candidate will make the hiring manager's own job harder. That's why it's beneficial to include a former employer/supervisor on your reference list. Your previous employer's human resources policies might prohibit this reference from providing too much information (in today's litigious environment, many companies will only provide employment verification through HR), but if your former supervisor has also moved on the company, then that's no longer an issue. Know that this reference will be asked, "If given the chance, would you hire this candidate again?" Make sure your reference is one who will say "Yes!" without any hesitation.

2. A Colleague Who Knows Your Work and Your Work Style

Including a trusted work peer as a reference might seem close to listing a friend as a reference, but particularly if this colleague interacted with you in a cross-departmental team, this type of reference can be extremely valuable. A hiring manager wants to know how well you play with others. (Again, this all goes back to the second question in the hiring manager's mind: Will he or she make my life easier or harder?) A peer reference who can vouch for your communication skills and team player status is an asset to your job hunt.

3. A Former Direct Report

If you're applying for a management position, it can be beneficial to provide a former direct report as a reference. (Emphasis on former—no matter the circumstances or how much you think you can trust someone, you don't want your direct reports having any inkling that you might be leaving them.) A direct report can offer valuable information about your leadership style. Look for someone who would go to work for you again. This reference will be asked that question.

4. Professor or Academic Advisor

Particularly if you're fresh out of college, including a former professor or academic advisor on your reference list can make up for a lack of other types of references. A professor can speak to your critical thinking skills. It's essential, however, that your professor or advisor actually know you. If it's a contact from a 500-person lecture class, then it's not likely this person will actually recall enough about you to provide any sort of useful information—and keep in mind that a bland reference can hurt more than help. It simply raises the question of why there wasn't a better reference to include.

5. A Professional Contact

A professional contact—whether it's a former vendor, former client or someone you know through a networking context, like a fellow nonprofit board member—can provide information about how well you would represent your potential employer in the community. Always keep in mind that a hiring manager is taking a risk when selecting any candidate, and showing that you are well-regarded outside your organization can ease his or her mind. In some cases, this type of reference can be a boon if you're trying to switch careers or industries. A professional contact might be able to speak to skills you've developed outside your 9 to 5.

As you develop your reference list, be sure to include not only contact information for your references but also context for how you know them (e.g., "Sally and I were co-chairs of the community library book drive"). Only select references who will take the responsibility seriously, and when you do provide their information to a hiring manager, give your references a heads-up about who might be calling them, what the position is and how you see yourself succeeding in that position. Keep them posted about the process—in other words, let them know whether you got the job—and thank them for their involvement in the process, even if you didn't.

Above all, stay in touch with your references so you aren't just contacting them whenever you're job-hunting. Evidence of an actual ongoing relationship will come through in their answers. Providing a reference list might seem like just one more box to check in your job hunt, but when a hiring manager has two strong candidates, a strong reference can make all the difference.

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