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Reference etiquette: Boost your CV with strong contacts. (Comstock Images/Comstock Images)
Reference etiquette: Boost your CV with strong contacts. (Comstock Images/Comstock Images)

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Reference etiquette: Boost your résumé with strong contacts Add to ...


I have been out of the work force for more than a year and recently have been invited for a job interview. I am not on great terms with my previous employer and am unsure what to do about references.

How many references do you need to provide at an interview? Should these references be included on the résumé, or separately? What information do you include in the references?

Should I provide the names of people I had poor working relationships with? I don’t want to provide poor references, but is it better to provide references from the people who were my most recent supervisors, or can I provide references I know will be more positive? Is there a reference etiquette?


References are a critical part of the interview process. In many cases, if an employer is checking your references, then the company is close to making you an offer.

So providing good, solid and relevant references are paramount.

And yes, there is a reference etiquette, including these key points:

Go for the positive

Gather references from people you know will speak positively about your work.

Make sure they are relevant to the role that you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for customer service position, include a recent customer as a reference. If it is a leadership role, find a subordinate or fellow manager to provide a reference for you.

Also, remember that job applicants do not need to use their current employer for references; many people do not want their current employer to know they are interviewing for other positions, a point that hiring managers understand.

Get permission

Inform your reference providers that you are applying for a new position, and thank them in advance for their help. Send them your résumé and details of the job you are applying for.

Let them know why you chose them as a reference, who they can expect a call from and, most importantly, brief them on what points you would like them to talk about.

Be thorough, and discreet

Offering three to four references is adequate; make sure you provide their complete title, place of employment, e-mail and phone number, and a single sentence on how you know this person.

References contain private information about people, such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses. So never attach reference names as part of the résumé or a job application, even if the company asks for them.

If you are asked for references upfront, politely say that because of the confidential nature of the references, you would be happy to provide them if you are shortlisted for the position.

Once you are asked for references, be ready to e-mail the list directly to the hiring manager.

Follow through

Follow up with your reference providers, and find out how everything went; don’t be shy about asking them what kind of answers they gave about your working relationship.

Most importantly, when you land that new job, let them know – and thank them again for their assistance.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

Do you have a question on careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts, which includes career coaches, a recruitment expert and an employment lawyer: careerquestion@globeandmail.com

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