Professional references during a job search

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Q: I am looking for a new job.  I think I have a pretty decent resume.  It’s been a long time since I had to look for a job.  Do companies still check references?  How do I share my references so that a company calls the right people from my former companies?

A: Strong professional references can often tip the scales in your favor.  Here are my suggestions around professional references:

  • Compile them on one page, entitled “John Doe – Professional References.” Use the same font and layout as your resume.  The reference page should look like it is part two of your resume.  I am thrilled when a candidate shares a one pager like this with us.  It means that they are organized, prepared and serious about their search.  Plus, it makes the recruiter’s job easier.  We don’t have to try to track down references and wait for emails with a hodgepodge of information.  All of the information is there, ready for us to take the next step.  Ideally at least three professional references should be provided.  I think six preferences is probably the maximum number.  Include the reference’s name, telephone numbers, email address and your relationship to them.


Sarah Smith, 617-555-1234 or 222-222-2222 (cell),, former supervisor at ABC Corp from 2012 to 20152.

  • Prepare your references. Contact your references before you share them with a prospective employer.  Ask for their permission and ensure that they are able to return a reference call quickly.  You don’t want to give a reference’s name if the reference is backpacking through the remote mountains of Peru at the same time you are expecting them to return a call.  Also, you want to share with them what they should highlight about your background.  Give them talking points.  If you have experience in talent management, compensation and compliance and the of interest is almost 95% focused on compliance, you want to ask them to focus on their comments on compliance.  Remember too, with LinkedIn and other tools, someone who may have worked with you in the past might receive a call about you.  You have less control about this type of back channel reference but it does happen.

Finally, thank your references, whether you receive an offer or not. A quick email expressing your appreciation is recommended.  My mother always taught me to send thank-you notes and she was right!

I also recommend reviewing your resume and your professional references every year.  Give your resume and references a quick tune-up and check it to make sure they are current.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.