By Career Advice

85% of Hiring Managers will check at least one of your references, so don’t underestimate their importance in making (or breaking) your job search.

Flexibility and freedom make remote work appealing to many, but landing the right job can be challenging. Without the personal interactions of a traditional job search, it’s often difficult to convince a prospective employer that you’re the best job candidate with the requisite skills, passion and dedication.

Today even the most traditional companies use online services (a.k.a. Applicant Tracking Systems) to prescreen every job application. Many are eliminated long before they make it to the desk of the person responsible for the hiring decision. With this emphasis placed on independent verification of employment applications and resumes, many remote workers never have an opportunity to speak with, much less meet, a prospective employer.

How To Build Strong, Positive References To Increase Your Job Prospects

Solid References Have Impact

Fortunately, an almost universal component of every job application allows job seekers to put their best foot forward without ever looking a prospective employer in the eye. Solid references have more impact today than ever before, speaking for you and resolving questions an employer may have about hiring you.

Building a strong, positive reference list is not a matter of chance. A few basic steps and common courtesy can provide you with references that push your application to the top of the pile.

Don’t Burn Bridges

It may go without saying, but always do the best work you can. You may not have a life-long commitment to a job, but while you are there, your employer should never have to question your desire or ability to perform the best work possible.

Don’t burn bridges, thinking that eventually, this job will be in the past. Your work record and potential references will follow.

Select Carefully

Select references from among supervisors and colleagues with real knowledge about your work product and commitment. Try to choose those whose reputation is strong in the industry and will carry weight with a new employer.


Let each person you select as a reference know about your job search plans and express your appreciation for their support. By offering them a sense of investment in your job search, you are more likely to receive positive references. Keep them advised of the time frame and when they may be contacted for a reference so that they are prepared and expecting the call.

Review Your Past Work with Them

When you contact references, include a brief discussion of your previous experience with them. Simple things like reminding them of your correct name and familiarity with projects and work you performed will go a long way towards giving them credibility with prospective employers.

Know What They’ll Say

Good lawyers never ask a question in court to which they don’t know the answer. Job applicants should never include references whose answers to questions may reflect poorly on them.

Everyone has had a supervisor with whom they did not see eye to eye. That doesn’t mean a reference will necessarily be negative, but it’s always best to be certain, and if necessary, ask them if they have a positive feeling about your former work performance. If not, you probably don’t want to include them on your list.

Follow Up

As a matter of courtesy, let your references know the results of your job search. They will appreciate it and respect your openness. The next time they are contacted as a reference the appreciation will show.

Say Thank You

A simple thank you call or note of appreciation lets your references know their time was not wasted and you will not abuse their goodwill. Remember, you may want to use them again in the future.

The Don’ts

Avoid these reference inclusions that can land your application in the “Do Not Hire” pile:

  • Never use relatives unless you worked directly for them, and then only if necessary
  • Never fake a reference. They are easy to spot, and if you get caught faking a reference, you are unlikely to ever be hired.

The bottom line is don’t ever underestimate the importance of what others will say about you. Building a reference list that speaks for you and puts your best foot forward may take a little effort, but it will pay huge dividends in the long run.

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