Building a Reference List

By John Link

Preparing a list of references is an important part of any employment application process. The purpose of a reference is to reinforce messaging communicated in an interview from former or current supervisors, co-workers, and other contacts who can speak positively about a candidates’ skills, qualifications and character.
Follow these suggestions for preparing a list of professional references.

Ask Permission First
It may go without saying, but reach out to those you may want to include on a list of references for employment opportunities you’re interested in first. Re-connecting with your contact network is a great way to keep your contacts up to date regarding your interest in exploring new career opportunities. Catching your contacts off guard with a surprise phone call from an employer is not recommended.

Create a Targeted List
Like your resume and cover letter, a list of references needs to be put together with thought. Include professionals who can speak in depth about the skills and characteristics outlined in the job description. For example, if you’re targeting a position that requests a qualified applicant have great team working and leadership skills, you should have references who can provide examples of your teamwork and leadership skills.

Keep Your References Informed
If you have already requested permission to include your references’ contact information in an application, and know there is a possibility they may be contacted by an employer, send your references a copy of the job description, and the resume/cover letter used to apply for the position. This information will be helpful to your reference for preparing to have a brief conversation with the employer.

Send a Thank You Note
At the conclusion of the application process, reach out to your references with a note of thanks for speaking to the employer you interviewed with. This note of appreciation is a great way to communicate the outcome of the hiring process, whether you were offered the position or not.

Who knew there was so much to think about when preparing a list of references? For additional information, guides and sample documents, visit the Career Planning & Development Center’s website.


John Link is the Assistant Director in the Webster University Career Planning & Development Center.