6 Tips to Make the Most of Your Job References

6 Tips to Make the Most of Your Job References
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References are critical to your job search, but because their traditional role comes late in the process, applicants may forget all about them until they’re requested by an interviewer or hiring manager.


At best, that approach will lessen the chance that your references will help secure the position you’ve worked hard to lock up. At worst, neglecting your network could sink an otherwise promising interview cycle.


By planning ahead, you can prepare your references to serve as your advocates and to best represent you. Here are a few tips to consider:


1. Keep Tabs. Stay in contact with former managers and colleagues who have observed your people skills and are familiar with your work. Go beyond the occasional LinkedIn thumbs-up – remain engaged with this critical part of your network.

2. Know Your Advocates: Resist the urge to ask for a reference over social media, email, or text. Tone of voice and body language can reveal reluctance – ask in person or over a phone call or video chat. Poor eye contact, a flat voice, or hesitation may signal you should find someone else.

3. Prep, Prep, Prep: This can be a two-way street – ask your references to help you be a better job candidate by providing résumé feedback, and offer them a list of major projects and achievements you have worked on together to help them better represent your skills to prospective employers.

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4. And Keep Prepping: Provide your references with the job description or vacancy announcement for the position you are seeking so they can highlight your relevant work experience. Pro Tip: share the résumé and cover letter you submitted for the position.

5. Stop Surprises: Keep your references in the loop throughout the process. Don’t tell them they “might get a call” and forget to follow up if you’ve moved onto other opportunities, or if the company has closed the position (or you got the job!).

6. Be Kind: Remain thankful throughout the journey – keeping a strong bench of references is critical to future success.


Need more networking tips? Visit MOAA’s Networking and Social Media page, and follow MOAA on LinkedIn!


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at MOAA.org in May 2019. Last update: June 2024.


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About the Author

Col. Brian D. Anderson, USAF (Ret)
Col. Brian D. Anderson, USAF (Ret)

Anderson joined the staff of MOAA's Career Transition Services Department in August 2011. He served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force in a wide range of command and staff assignments. Connect with him on LinkedIn.