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  • Lori A. Jazvac

References: Exploring Unanswered Questions

Would you actually leave your beautiful spring garden unattended for a few days or weeks, or even a month? Well, sustaining trusted relationships with references is almost like tending to your own garden -- it requires care and maintenance.

The first week of May is “International Update Your References Week,” which signals a time to boost career success through verifying references.

References are usually requested by the employer to verify that the candidate is an amicable fit aligned with the organization. References may also be requested well in advance of the interview.

As a Master Certified Résumé Strategist, I provide a fully updated reference sheet in the résumé package. This helps prepare a candidate to confidently approach the next step in the recruitment process and secure a lucrative job offer.

Did you know that neglecting this important piece of information could actually deter your chances to getting a job and being screened out? Ironically, references are either perceived by candidates with raised eyebrows, or are confidently welcomed as the final step before securing a job offer.

Debunking the Reference Myth

References should never be outlined in the résumé. The “References available upon request” line is still encountered when I view some résumés. However, this implied line serves little purpose and wastes space. Rather, a quote or testimonial taken from a reference letter serves as a much more effective strategy.

Always check your list of professional references to make sure you have selected appropriate individuals to maximize their candidacy. Seek permission from the employer before obtaining a reference.

Additional tips include:

  • Ensure that you stay in contact with your references and submit a copy of your updated résumé to keep them updated. Focus on sustaining trusted relationships with your references.

  • What makes a good reference? Former bosses, supervisors, teachers, or leaders of volunteer organizations that your client is affiliated with. Alternatively, consider customers, vendors, professors, and/or professional colleagues from networking or professional organizations that you have worked with.

  • Select only individuals who will offer a positive and professional reference about your work performance. If in doubt, then do not use that person as a reference.

  • Usually 3-4 references are needed –– three business references and possibly one or two personal references excluding family members will suffice. Never exceed six references unless requested.

  • Include reference’s contact name and job title, company name and address, email, and phone. Consider citing a brief description of your professional relationship with the reference.

  • If the reference has left the company, mention “former” or “retired” in the title if applicable.

  • Never list contact information on references online without their permission.

Managing Challenges with References

If your reference has relocated, then consider using another reference if there is no way of getting in touch with them. Every employer handles references differently. Some employers may choose to only provide a reference letter verifying dates of employment and the position without commenting on actual work performance. Other employers or academic professors may even supply a confidential reference without allowing the candidate to view the reference.

In any case, handle all reference-related situations with professionalism, tact, and diplomacy. Conduct research on references before selecting them, keep references updated at all times, and have an updated reference sheet on file.

As our careers develop and change over the course of the career lifecycle, so do our references. References represent trusted and supportive advocates concerning our careers. If your references are potentially lessening your chances of further career success, then it’s time to conduct a thorough re-evaluation of the quality of your choices in representing your best career interests. Being armed with a solid reference may provide the missing piece to the job search puzzle.

The bottom line is that references are a critical piece to supporting you or affirming your performance which could sway the prospective employer to either offer you the position or reconsider and move to the next candidate.

Further information about managing references can be obtained through Creative Horizons Communications – Resumes, or email Lori Jazvac, Master Certified Resume Strategist/Career Consultant at

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