The Job Search And Career Advice Blog header image 2

Ask Brian – Who Should I Use For My References?

November 12th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Posted by

If you have career or job search question you would like answered on this blog, click here to Ask Brian.

Reader Eric from San Diego, CA writes:

“The job I’m applying for asks for a reference page in addition to the resume. Who are the people I should use as references? I can use my most recent boss, but who else? And how many people should I list?”

Brian answers after the break…

Brian sayz:

I’m glad you’re using a separate reference page. I’m not a big fan of tacking references on to the end of a resume.

I’d say for most professionals 3-4 references would suffice. You could get away with 2 in rare instances… but make sure those 2 are home runs.

As for the “who” question, I like to see some sort of mix from the following categories:

  1. Employment references. This one is obvious: your previous bosses. The more recent bosses are the most important ones. If you can get the boss you just quit working for to cry a river about how much it sucks to have lost you, that’s about as good as it gets.
  2. Associate references. This can include co-workers, basically to serve as character witnesses. But I’m actually thinking more in terms of asking people you worked with from other companies to give you references. Let’s say you worked with a lot of vendors or strategic partners at your last job. See if you can get someone in authority from one of those places to give you a reference. After all, that person did not employ you directly, so they have no real skin in this fight. If they give you a reference its because they really respected your work and your professionalism. This sort of references is kind of like a reference from an impartial observer and can add real depth to your qualifications. It would show you are respected in the broader industry, not just at your most recent company.
  3. Educational references. Most people, if they’ve been in the workplace for 5 years or more, won’t need to get references from schools or professors. But recent grads will and should. And highly specialized careers like Medicine, Science, the Law, etc… these are careers where your intellectual background and training are always of interest. So if you did your undergrad work with a Nobel Laureate or clerked for a Supreme Court Judge, you should be asking them for references even 20-30 years after the fact.
  4. Community figures. Think of someone completely outside your career field who can vouch for you as a person. Yeah, a friend or next door neighbor is ok. But a well-known local minister is better. Try to think of anyone you know who has some sort of standing in the community. For instance, I’m good friends with a local city councilman and lawyer. If I were ever to apply for a job locally, I’d be sure to include him as a reference.

What do you think, readers? Who do you make sure to ask for references? Tell us in the comments.

Related posts:

  1. Ask Brian- How Do I Know If I Aced the Interview?
  2. Ask Brian- Politics on My Resume
  3. Ask Brian- Taking A Step “Backward” And How To Address This In My Resume
  4. Ask Brian- Advice For an Overqualified Job Candidate

Tags: Ask Brian · Resumes

  • Sinead

    Hi; I am just curious if your co-workers don’t want to be your references from any job you had in the past, who can you use as a reference. I know you can’t use family, but can you use a close friend. If you volunteer for an organization can you ask them to be a reference for you… It’s kind of surprised noboby at the/your company wants to be a reference that’s sad especially if you work for them. But what if it comes along in the next few weeks they come up to you and fire you, won’t you get the hint then you asked for a reference and they fire you can you complain that.

  • Bach.

    What if this is a “practice” resume? And i’m only a freshman, and nevered gotten a job? who should be my references than?