Selecting and preparing referees

Referees play a crucial role in your job search by adding a third party perspective of your work ethic, skills, and strengths for any prospective employer. Their references can make or break your chances of securing your next role, so it is critical that you choose the right people, maintain those relationships and properly brief them on the roles you apply for.

Read these tips to ensure you obtain the best possible references for your resume.

1. How to choose your referees

It is important to have a strong collection of current, relevant referees on hand to support you in your job search. Choose referees who:

  • You have worked with closely within the last five years
  • Are fully aware of your strengths and will speak highly of you
  • Can verify and discuss your skills, experience and abilities in detail

Such people could be past or current managers, managers from other departments with whom you’ve worked closely, external clients, suppliers or colleagues. Be sure to get their permission before listing them as referees and check that their titles and contact details are correct and up to date.

2. Consider which referees will best present your case

It’s an unfortunate truth that even if someone is sure to speak highly of you and can attest to your strong work ethic and diverse skillset, they may still not be the best option as a resume referee.

This is because not everyone is adept at communication, particularly over the phone, which is how most referee interviews are held. For example, this person may be known for tripping over their words, mumbling, speaking in a monotone voice, or failing to respond to questions with clear and concise answers.

While these cases are not that common, it may be an important factor to consider, especially if you have other referee options that can speak eloquently and with enthusiasm.

3. How to brief your resume referees

You should properly prepare your referees so they are not surprised by the call, and are in a strong position to give you a positive reference. Let them know that you are job hunting and will contact them when a reference is required. When that time comes, provide them with a description of the role you have applied for and details on who will be contacting them and when.

You may want to share your thoughts on how your experience and personal attributes are relevant to the new role. This allows the referee to reinforce aspects of your past performance that will show you in the best light. 

4. Maintain your references

Keep in regular contact with your referees so that the relationship remains strong and they have a positive opinion of you when the call comes. Keep them informed on your job search activities and let them know that you’d be happy to act as a referee for their own resume should the need arise.

5. Match your referees to the job

Put together a small collection of potential references that you can call upon during your job search. This way, you can match two or three that would best suit the role you are applying for.

For example, say the job you’re applying for requires strong leadership skills. In this case, you may be best passing on details of someone who has worked under you who can personally attest to what it’s like having you as their manager. Or perhaps the role is all about communication skills, in which case a client could be a good pick, as communication is a huge part of successful client relationships.   

6. Don’t forget to thank your referees

Regardless of the outcome, always take the time to give your referee a call, or send them a quick email, to say thank you. If you are successful in the job application, consider reaching out to your referees with a thank you card or small gift to show your appreciation.


Your resume references are often the last step before a formal offer from your potential employer. The role of a resume referee is crucial in verifying your skills, employment history, and additional information you’ve spoken about in your CV and interview.

Have a selection of good referees on hand and maintain these relationships so that when you are job seeking, your referees are prepared and willing to speak highly of you.  

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