Job References: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Providing job references can be a tricky business. Can you be confident about the names you give? Would you be surprised at the type of questions asked? Is it ever ok to list your current manager?

Here is a swift rundown of the basics you should learn about job references.

Who To Pick?

The best references are from people who managed your work and will speak positively of you. You need people who are familiar enough with you and your work to speak in detail about your skills and accomplishments, and of course your enthusiasm!

How Many References?

A standard playbook is to have three people willing to provide a reference on you. Of these, at least two should be professional referees, ideally from people who have managed you and/or worked directly with you. Having an additional character reference from a person of standing (credible profession or social standing) is also acceptable if you have already provided professional referees.

What Questions Will Be Asked?

This will vary from employer to employer. Some of the usual topics covered would include the quality of your work, your strengths and weaknesses, and whether the employer would hire you back if they could. Some reference checkers might dig into behavioural aspects such as how you demonstrated particular initiative, solved a tricky issue or responded to criticism.

Are Past Managers The Best Referees?

In short, yes! Past managers usually provide the strongest references because they were specifically responsible for evaluating your work. Peers can discuss you as a co-worker, but nearly all reference checkers want to hear from a manager.

Should You List Your Current Manager?

Almost never. It is extremely normal to ask a reference checker to never contact your current boss because almost all of the persons do not let their provider know they’re seeking a new job. If a reference checker insists, just insist back. You are well within your rights to refuse this. If by chance you have such a good relationship with your current boss that they are willing to actively refer you elsewhere, then by all means take advantage of this and use them. But I would tread with caution.

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