How Should I Prep My References?

You should always have references ready in case an employer requests them. This can take some time, so it’s best to have them prepared in advance.

Remember - do not put references on your resume.

Select Your References

You should be prepared with at least three references for if or when a potential employer asks.

Your references can be from your current company or other contacts, but all should be familiar with your work in business settings.


Your references are a reflection of you, even beyond whether they give a good recommendation. Consider people who are well spoken and comfortable discussing your performance with others.

Your references are a direct reflection on you. 

If you are early career, focus on references from former managers or peers of your manager / former manager. By having a reference from further above, this also shows your interaction within the company and conveys some status in the position.


As you move up the career ladder into higher positions, you can focus on references from peers as well as people holding higher positions. Peer references may be able to speak to your skills of influencing and leadership.  

Be aware that many employers don’t give references per company policy because they want to reduce legal risk if someone wasn’t hired due to a bad recommendation. If that is the case, you will need to find other references.

Request a Reference

Once you have identified potential references, it’s time to verify they are willing to give you a good reference.

This can be a simple conversation: “I’m exploring new career opportunities. Would you be willing to act as a reference for me?”

Follow up with a thank you. 

What happens if someone says no? 

Ask when you are leaving a position if your manager would be willing to provide you a reference in the future.

Thank them for being honest with you. 

It’s much better to find out at this stage that they don’t feel comfortable giving you a good reference (or can’t because of company policy). It would be much worse if they were contacted by a potential future employer of yours and told them that they would not recommend you.


On a related note - do not pressure anyone to be a reference. They likely will not give you a great reference if contacted.


You can also be proactive throughout your career and ask when you are leaving a position if your manager would be willing to provide you a reference in the future if needed. Over time, this will build up multiple references proactively.


If some time has passed since someone offered to provide a reference, it’s always good to reconfirm that they are still willing and able. 

Keep Your References Up To Date

Once you have identified your references and they have confirmed they will give you good references, you should keep them up to date.


You want your references to be prepared so they can give the best possible inputs.

You want your references to be be prepared so they can give the best possible inputs. 

If you are just starting to look at new jobs and have not yet applied, make sure your references know that you are preparing.


Let your references know as you send out their contact information. Tell them that you have sent their information as a reference for a certain position.


Give your references some information on the position they will be referring you for. This will help them to better tie in their recommendation with the needs of the position to which you are applying.


If you are changing career fields, let your references know. They need to understand the types of roles you are looking at and some key skills so they can try to tie their feedback to this.


Keeping your references informed makes sure that they are ready to give you the best referral possible when you need it.

Do you have references prepared in case an employer asks?
Do they know where you are in your job search?