Great Resumes Fast » Job Search » Choosing and Using References in your Job Search

An important part of any job search is having references who can attest to your being a good employee.  As you begin your job search, take some time to consider which former coworkers will provide you with the most positive references possible.  Most potential employers will want to talk to your former supervisors.  However, you may know that a former supervisor loves gossiping about others or rarely has a kind word to say about anyone.  In that scenario, it may be better to use a former coworker who’s very familiar with your work and who will discuss you more fairly with a future employer.


Another potentially awkward scenario is using references from jobs you held too far in the past.  If you’ve been at the same company for the last ten years, it is more appropriate to use coworkers and associates from your current employer than to use a supervisor you haven’t worked for in more than ten years.  Perhaps your current position reports to an IT manager but interfaces often with the CFO.  In this situation, the CFO can also attest to your being a team player, having a good work ethic, and having added value to your department.


People who know you from performing significant volunteer responsibilities can also provide excellent references.  For instance, if you publish the newsletter for your local PTA, the school principal may be more familiar with your writing skills than a former manager you had in a sales position.  Using volunteer references is also helpful when you’ve been in your current position for only a short time—and especially if you’ve held your volunteer commitments for many years.  A brief work history won’t count as much against you if you can offset it by demonstrating stability and long-term commitment in other places.


Once you’ve chosen the best people to provide your references, it is essential to keep those people informed of your job search.  Someone who has recently spoken with you will reflect their positive memory of that contact when talking with a potential employer.  Most importantly, you don’t want to place a reference in the position of being reprimanded for discussing your qualifications during company time.  Nor do you want them to be caught off guard simply because they were unaware that you are still actively searching for a job.

Most of the time, your references will know only about your duties that directly interacted with their own.  It’s a good idea to send a copy of your resume to your references so they’re aware of all the responsibilities of your current (or previous) position.  It also provides your references with a framework for the overall path of your career, allowing them to speak more intelligently about you when a potential employer calls.

When it comes to references, choose carefully, stay in touch, and provide them with updated information.  As long as they know what to expect, your references will be glad to help you out!

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About the author

Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast

Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.

What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.

You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!

I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!


  1. Steve Weir on October 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Good read. I talk with a lot of folks who are nervous who they have as references. It’s a weird situation sometimes, where someone will say “yes” if asked (because it’s awkward to say no) and yet, that person may not be a good reference. it can be especially challenging for folks who are earlier in their careers to come up with the 3-4 references that are often required – without resorting to lateral people.

    Good references are really just part of continually keeping your ‘career self’ in a good shape- always maintaining good professional relationships.

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