Skip to main content

The 411 on references

By Laura Morsch

Editor's Note: has a business partnership with, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to




Enter Keyword(s):
Enter City
  More Options



Chances are, you've spent hours punching up and proofreading your résumé and just as long formulating the perfect cover letter -- and they're ready to distribute at a moment's notice. But would you be so prepared if an interviewer asked for your references?

The best time to start thinking about your references is now -- before your interviewer asks for them, writes Catherine Beck in her book 'It's Your Career -- Take Control!'

Fortunately, with a little planning, you can go to any interview with a professional-looking list of people itching to rave about your abilities. To help you along, Beck's book provides answers to some common questions about handling references:

1. When do I provide my references?

The key is to provide your references only when someone asks for them, Beck writes. That way, you can provide your references with more detailed information about the position and respect their busy schedules.

Usually, a potential company checks your references once you become a finalist for the position. But occasionally, the company will ask for references when you submit your résumé. In this case, it's up to you whether to comply or let them know you'll provide references at the interview.

If you're trying to keep your job search secret from a current boss, explain the situation to your interviewer. Assure the hiring manager you will provide your boss' contact information once an offer is made.

2. Who checks my references?

The person doing the calling could be a human resources representative, the hiring manager, a designated caller, a recruiter or an independent agency.

3. Why are they checking my references?

Beck says prospective employers ask for your references to confirm their decision, to verify your work history, to evaluate your working or personality style or to uncover any problems in your past that could result in legal action against them.

4. Who do I choose as references?

Experts recommend choosing three to five references. Stick with people you have had good working relationships with over the last five to seven years.

Most reference lists include a current or previous boss. If you did not get along with your manager, choose a substitute on the same level as your manager with a good day-to-day knowledge of your work. Others on your list could be team members, direct reports, customers, vendors or your supervisor's boss.

5. Do I need someone's permission to use them as a reference?

It's important to choose references who will give glowing reviews of you, so always ask before you submit their names to an employer. Most people will be happy to help, but if someone seems hesitant when you ask, let them off the hook -- you want your references to be enthusiastic about touting your abilities.

6. How do I know what my references will say?

Unfortunately, when your employer talks to your reference, it's a one-on-one conversation -- and you're not invited. Although you can't control what your references will say, you can fill them in on all the pertinent information -- for example, what type of position you're seeking or what aspects of your background you're emphasizing -- and provide them with the latest copy of your résumé.

7. What should my reference sheet look like?

Use the same letterhead as your résumé to give your materials a consistent look, and be sure your name and contact information are included. Include each person's full name, job title, relationship and contact information including phone number and e-mail address.

8. What questions are references asked?

Typical questions include:

  • What were Chad's primary responsibilities?
  • What were his top skills? His strengths? What were his limitations or weaknesses?
  • Will you describe Chad's attendance record?
  • Would you hire him again?
  • Some reference checkers will also ask more in-depth questions that will review the skills and characteristics that are critical for the job as well as what you said in the interview. Examples include:

  • This job requires an ability to handle high-stress situations. Give me a couple of examples when Chad was faced with a high-stress situation and how he handled it.
  • Chad described working on the DOLIS Project. As his manager, how would you describe his contribution?
  • What would be three words to describe Chad's management style?
  • How would Chad's co-workers describe his ability to successfully work on a team? Was he well-liked?
  • Laura Morsch is a writer for

    © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
    Story Tools
    Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
    Top Stories
    Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
    Top Stories
    Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
    Search JobsMORE OPTIONS

    © 2007 Cable News Network.
    A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
    Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
    Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
    Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines