Your application may get your foot in the door with hiring managers and a great interview may put you at the top of the list, but it’s your reference check that is often the “make it or break it” factor in whether or not you get the job. After all, they’ve gotten to hear why you think you’d be perfect for the job, but they also need to see if your story checks out by talking to people who know what you’re really like in a professional setting. Make your reference check work for you by selecting the right people to use as references:

Former Employers

When you’re asked to provide references, hiring managers expect to see people who have directly supervised you and know your work habits and past performance most closely. Your go-to references should primarily focus on past managers or anyone who led you in some way (even for volunteer work). Their opinions hold the most clout with hiring managers because they have the most comprehensive viewpoint of your work versus other references who may be more limited.


Another possibility to use for references are any colleagues who have witnessed you in a professional capacity. This could be former co-workers or fellow members of a professional organization or volunteer group. While they have a more narrow view of your work ethic than a manager would, they can still serve as effective references.


If you have limited work experience, a teacher, professor, or advisor who has firsthand knowledge of your skills can be used as a reference. They could recommend you based on your soft skills (such as communication) or hard skills (technical expertise). A solid reference from a respected educator could help you get by until you gain other professional relationships in the workplace to use in the future.

References to Pass On:

Family and Friends

Never use anyone as a reference who has no experience working with you whatsoever. This mainly includes family members and friends, because they aren’t going to be viewed as objective, unbiased assessments. Plus, it can make it seem like you’re either trying to hide something by not providing work-related references or that you’re unprofessional or too immature to realize it’s inappropriate.

Someone Who Won’t Vouch For You

Always check with people before listing them as references to ensure they are comfortable with providing one – otherwise, this leads to an awkward encounter when they are contacted by the hiring manager (which certainly won’t help your case). And of course, leave off any former managers you left on bad terms.

A staffing firm like Mark/Ryan Associates, Ltd. will also have your back when it comes to helping you be successful in your job search efforts. Since our founding in 2004, we have been matching talented candidates with employers with available positions in Chicagoland. Get started by contacting us today to learn more.Take The Next Step in Your Career


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