Posted by Brian McCullough
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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…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.