As a recruiter I’ve always found checking references somewhat obligatory. That is, until I come across a candidate without a good reference. I was recently talking with a relative about a situation where someone they had worked with in the past, who demonstrated poor work behavior, called and asked him for a recommendation. He told him he would give one, but that he would also have to be honest about his poor work behavior. The past coworker said, “Oh yes, I know, and thank you!” I thought to myself, “Who would give a future employer a bad reference?’” Needless to say, it happens and we must talk about having good references on your side.

Fearless job seeker, every reference you give needs to be on your side. I’ve had people who will reach out to me that I haven’t communicated with in years, and out of the blue they want a reference. Frankly, it tells me two things. One, they have not done a good job building trusted relationships since we last worked together. Two, their current work is not good enough to speak well for them. The references I used five years ago are not the same as today. I want good references who understand my current work context and who can speak to my latest achievements.

Future employers begin checking references when they are serious about your candidacy. Therefore, you need to get serious about using the best references for yourself. Here are some steps to keep good references on your side:

  • Make a list of potential good references. Reach out to them and ask ahead of time if they can be contacted. Think of current colleagues and mentors who can speak to your achievements.
  • Stay in contact with them. Don’t connect with them just when you need a reference. Good references come from people who know you well and that means you have to maintain a relationship with them. This is also just good networking.
  • Keep them in the loop if you are job searching. Don’t let them be surprised being contacted for a reference. It takes their time to give a reference for you and you want them to be prepared to highlight the best recommendation for you.
  • Ask them to let you know when they have been contacted. Knowing how the conversation went will help you know where you are in the process.
  • Say “Thank you!” when you get hired!


When is the last time you networked with someone who can be a reference for you? Do you think employers should check references? Leave a comment!