Your Reference List: Who Should You Choose?

Your Reference List: Who Should You Choose?
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If you are making a job change but haven’t given much thought to your list of references, it may be time you did. Many job seekers often think only in terms of longtime friends and professional colleagues, but an effective reference list goes well beyond that.


Here are five considerations to keep in mind as you peruse your circle of contacts. A good reference list should:


1. Be flexible (and be ready). Select four to six people so you’ll have a good pool from which to choose – in some cases, you may want to tailor your references to your employer. Get permission prior to using someone as a reference or giving out their contact information. It’s basic professional courtesy, and it also alerts the person in advance that an employer may call them out of the blue.


2. Include people who can speak about your professional skills and experience. These are often people with whom you have worked in the past, but you can include anyone who was in a position to observe your work or can attest to your professional abilities. Ensure they know what type of employment you are targeting so they can specifically highlight the appropriate skills in their conversation with the employer.


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3. Showcase your character. You want folks on your reference list who can discuss who you are beyond your business skills – someone who knows your personal characteristics. Employers want to know whether a candidate’s ethics and values mesh with their own.


4. Pull from many professional lanes. Incorporate people on your list who represent the full spectrum of professional relationships: peers, seniors, and subordinates. The nature of the relationship shapes their ability to talk about your skills from a variety of key perspectives.


5. Appreciate the value of diversity. Take a moment to look at the people on your list. Are they all male or all female? If so, you may be inadvertently sending an unintended message. What about age? Are they all senior? All young people? Incorporating contacts who are outside of your own age demographic can signal your ability to integrate into a multigenerational workplace and work well with the team, no matter its composition.


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Finally, make sure all those on your list will give you their full support. If you sense any hesitancy or reticence in their ability to convey strong enthusiasm and support for your candidacy, it’s probably best to find someone else. And don’t forget to thank those who agree to serve as references: They are your champions and want to contribute to your success.


Want to know more? Check out the MOAA archive of career transition topics. Want some visual aids? Premium and Life members can access all the materials in MOAA’s webinar archive, including tips on marketing yourself for a second career. Learn more about joining MOAA or upgrading your membership at this link.


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About the Author

Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)
Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)

Cole is MOAA's former Program Director, Career Transition Services