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References: What You Need to Know

Your references are people who know you and can tell an employer about you. They help your potential employer form a picture of what you’re like to work with. A good reference will help you find the job you want.

Test your reference knowledge

True or false:

  1. A reference is someone who can talk about your character, skills and work experience. True or false?
  2. Most employers don’t check references. True or false?
  3. Once someone agrees to be your reference, you don’t need to contact him or her again. True or false?
  4. You should line up your references before you begin your job search. True or false?
  5. A reference cannot write you a reference letter. True or false?


How did you do? Take a look at the correct answers below:

  1. True. Your best references will be people who know you and have worked with you. For example, a supervisor or manager can tell a potential employer about your experience, skills, achievements and work ethic
  2. False. Most employers will follow up with at least 3 of your references if they are seriously considering you for a job
  3. False. It’s good manners and professional courtesy to contact your references each time you provide their name to a potential employer
  4. True. You usually give your references at the end of an interview or when you’re being considered for a job. But it’s a good idea to begin gathering references before you start your job search
  5. False. If your reference is hard to reach, a letter from this person is the next best thing

Types of references

For your work search, you’ll probably need at least 3 professional references. These are people who have worked closely with you in a job or volunteer setting. If you’re just starting your career, you may need to use personal references. These are people who can vouch for you, but haven’t worked with you.

Choose your references carefully

Make sure the people you select meet these criteria:

  • They know you well enough to answer specific questions about you and your work
  • They can recommend you whole-heartedly
  • They can express themselves clearly, especially on the phone. (This is important because many employers check references by phone.)

Learn how to choose the right reference.

Learn about who and how to ask for a reference.

Learn what to do if references are a problem.

Give a reference carefully

You may be asked for a reference at some point in your career. It’s flattering to be asked, but it comes with responsibilities. Some questions to keep in mind include:

  • Are you comfortable giving a reference for this person?
  • Do you know about the legal effects of a good or bad reference?
  • Do you know about the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)
  • Do you know what employers can or can’t ask you?

Learn more about giving a reference.

Check out this employment reference letter sample.

Check out this personal reference letter sample.


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