5 Steps to Secure Effective References for Your Job Search

Posted by Ashley Jones

If it’s been a while since your last cleared job search or you haven’t stayed in touch with your network, you may be nervous about asking for references. No matter how stellar your resume or interview game is, you’ll likely be asked to provide references at some point in the hiring process. In fact, a raving review from a well prepped reference might be the determining factor in a close call between you and another candidate.

Consider these five tips to ensure you secure references that will help, not hinder, your cleared job search:

1. Put together your reference wish list

As you make a list of the people you’d ideally want to serve as a reference, think of past bosses, project managers, clients, or other individuals who are familiar with your value and quality of work. Who can best speak to your abilities and accomplishments?

We typically develop our expertise and skill sets as our careers move forward, so try to select individuals you’ve worked with recently. While it’s usually best to have recent references, there may be an exception if a particular position you held in your past is especially relevant to the job you’re currently applying for.

When making a list of your top picks, consider adding backups. Many professionals have busy schedules and could potentially be traveling or unreachable when the reference process begins.

2. Make the ask

The biggest misstep you can make when providing references is not telling someone that you are using them. The last thing you want is a recruiter to call someone who is unprepared. Or even worse, they could struggle to remember who you are—that’s not the kind of impression you want a reference to give.

Bottom line, you need to make contact and have permission before you start handing out contact information. Depending on your relationship to each potential reference, the method you choose to ask them might look different. If you have a close and continuing relationship, you may ask them during your next get together or a phone call. But for others you’ll likely want to send an email to make the ask.

Start your message by telling them you’re in job search mode and you want them to be a reference. You know the reasons you picked them—tell them why. Express that you remember what a great boss they were or how you learned a lot working with them.

Be positive and make them feel appreciated. After all, you are asking them to do something on your behalf. Make it clear that you value their time, and promise not to throw their name around – you’ll only share it when you really need to.

Keep in mind that you’re asking for them to be a reference, not simply notifying them that they are one. Most will say yes, but be respectful of their decision if they decline. You don’t want neutral or negative references anyway, so it’s best not to push if you don’t receive the response you were hoping for.

3. Get your new reference up to speed

Once your contact agrees to serve as a reference, your prep work hasn’t finished. Send them a copy of your resume and tell them what kind of jobs you’re looking for. Getting them up to speed on your job search may uncover additional opportunities.

Maybe they can share another job opening that matches what you’re looking for. Or they might know someone at one of your target employers. It’s possible that asking for a reference could lead to a referral.

Also be sure to ask for their preferred contact method, so you know which phone number and email address is appropriate to share with recruiters and hiring managers. Speaking of what’s appropriate, protect your references’ time and contact information by only sharing it once you’ve been interviewed and are asked for references. You can also leave this off of your resume: “references available on request.” It’s implied – and it’s a waste of valuable resume space.

Finally, let your reference know you’ll follow up to notify them when you have a specific opportunity that you want them to be a reference for.

4. Give them a heads up and share the inside scoop

After you’ve pulled out your best references and given their information to the recruiter or hiring manager, update your reference and make sure they’re prepared to impress. Tell them about the job, who they can expect a call from, and what you learned in the interview that the employer is most interested in.

If they emphasized something like teamwork during your interview, ask your reference if they could touch on your teamwork skills. Make it easy for them to sell you as a great hire by debriefing them on whatever is most critical to the position and how your skills meet those needs.

Try to keep your message brief and be mindful of their time. You can also send them another copy of your resume now. Remember, you’re making it easy for them, so that they have everything they need.

5. Always say thank you

This last step goes without saying, but always thank your references. Sharing your appreciation for the reference they gave is not only kind, but it also helps to ensure they’ll be willing to serve as a reference for you again.

Whether you were offered the job or not, they were involved in the process. They’ll want to know how things turned out, so don’t forget to follow up. Bonus points if you make an effort to nurture that relationship going forward, before you need to ask them for something again. Securing references is a part of networking, so be sure to stay in touch beyond your current job search.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2022 11:03 am

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