Consider These 5 Groups of People as You Select Your References

Consider These 5 Groups of People as You Select Your References
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Taking a random approach to selecting your references won’t fully leverage support from people who want to help. References are an opportunity to score an easy win in boosting your candidacy for a new position, so don’t slack on picking the best of the best from your network.


Earlier articles have offered some basics on who to choose, and some important tips on the selection process itself – how to make sure your references are ready to make you stand out. For example: The best references are able to provide specific examples that reinforce and support their comments and observations about you. To help, give them a copy of your résumé and, if possible, a copy of the job announcement. They should be able to convey more than the fact that they happen to like you.


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Still having trouble finalizing that list? It may help to group potential references into how you’ve interacted with them personally and professionally. Consider pulling from these categories as you comb through your network:

  • Current or former commanders or executive officers. These can be excellent references because they were in a position to directly observe and evaluate your performance.

  • Colleagues and coworkers. This group is very familiar with your professional skills and abilities, which allows them to talk about you as a working professional.

  • Team members from a project or special event. Don’t ignore these people, even if you interacted with them for a relatively short time: Not only are they able to talk about the particular skills you demonstrated, but they can also describe what it was like to work with you on a difficult or complex task.

  • People outside of your chain of command. Government civilians, department or agency heads, subject matter experts, even government contractors – consider this valuable pool of experienced federal employees who can attest to your professional abilities.

  • People you’ve met via volunteer or community work. Finally, don’t overlook the value of work you have done outside of your office. You use skills that will help you succeed in your new position all the time, not just at your current job. Managing the budget for a fundraising event, coordinating the efforts and schedule of a team of volunteers, or collaborating with a key set of donor stakeholders are all examples of valuable skills transferrable to a formal work environment. Capitalize on the relationships you have formed with people who share the same commitment priorities that you do by asking for their support as a job reference.


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Lastly, this is a time to be bold. Don’t be shy about asking someone to be a reference for you! Your network is champing at the bit for the chance to support you – doing so makes them feel good. It is up to you to give them that opportunity.


Want more help and advice as you plan your transition? We can help. MOAA offers a wide range of support in the MOAA archive of career transition topics. Premium and Life members can access all the materials in MOAA’s webinar archive, including how to market 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