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Need a reference? Here are seven tips to pick the right one

Your referee can be the difference between getting and losing a job. They vouch that you’re telling the truth in your job application, and share a bit about your character and suitability for the new role.

So how do you choose the right referee? I asked career coaches in Australia and New Zealand and their answers come back to a few core ideas: Choose someone you trust, make sure they’re prepared and hang on to good referees.

Forget your current boss

Lois Freeke: “It is not reasonable to expect to have anyone from your current organisation, unless they have left and will keep your current job search confidential. Anyone who insists on contacting a current referee is not being realistic or respectful of your privacy.” 

Choose someone who knows the industry

Anton Pemmer: “Find someone that has credibility within the job market that you are looking at. That way, there is an alignment between you, the job and the reference.”

Aim for seniority

Ruchi Motial-Suri: “When I am doing a reference check, if I am presented with a peer as a referee, I always wonder … how come they couldn’t produce a senior manager for a reference check?”

Be careful

Gillian Kelly: “How do you choose? Carefully is my answer. Choose someone who knows your work, knows your values and will be a good ambassador in discussing the value you bring. If in doubt, find someone else. A hesitant referee is not your friend.”

Make sure your referee is prepared

Brett Clemenson: “Make sure whoever you choose is aware they are a reference. Too often I talk to a reference and the individual has no idea they have even been listed. It doesn’t reflect well on the candidate as it seems sheepish or, even worse, kinda rude not to do the courtesy and ask!”

Lia Zalums: “I recommend that you email and call to ask them personally if they would support you as a referee. Make sure you provide an up-to-date resume, the job description for the role and your cover letter. I also recommend you ask them to highlight specific aspects of your character and values that you displayed in the role you had when working with them as well as two or three specific strengths and what you did to move the needle in particular projects.”

Michael Pearse: “When a hiring manager confirms they will be contacting referees, ask them how they will be approached, and whether the feedback will be needed on a phone call, a questionnaire or online survey. Relay this back to the referee so they can prepare.”

Hang on to good references

Ian Rogers: “Occasionally a referee will sell you into the job. That is someone who likes you and will go on your employment journey with you. Someone you have kept in touch with. These types of referees are the best and require ongoing networking.”

Think about digital references

Wendy Alexander: “I always check out the candidate’s LinkedIn profile and look at their recommendations. That’s why it’s so important to have a highly compelling LinkedIn profile with a few strong recommendations on it.”

Don’t be surprised if a hiring manager doesn’t want to see a reference

Kate Richardson: “More employers are choosing not to do reference checks because they don’t believe it adds value in the process — particularly when people choose ‘friendly’ ex-colleagues.”

So there you have it. How have you chosen your referees in the past? Have you acted as someone else’s reference? Share your experiences in the comments.