Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Reference etiquette: Boost your résumé with strong contacts

Reference etiquette: Boost your CV with strong contacts.

Comstock Images/Comstock Images


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?

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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

Story continues below advertisement

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:

Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

Report an error
About the Author
Globe Careers coach

Eileen More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨