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How much do job references matter? Do employers really call them? Who is the best reference to put on your list? How many references do you need? How can you make sure your reference says good things about you? These are all critical questions for job seekers. Here’s what you need to know about job references.

Do Job References Matter?

Your references can make or break your job search. A great reference can move a hiring manager off the fence and into extending you a job offer. A bad reference can sink you even if you had a good interview.

Do Employers Always Call Your References?

Employers call job references more than you might think. Unless they happen to already know the person who recommended you for the job (which is essentially a reference), they’ll be calling the people on your list.

Who Makes the Best References?

In the eyes of a potential employer, former bosses, managers, or supervisors are always the best references. You’re going to work for them, so they want to hear what kind of experience another boss had with you. If for some reason you can’t use your current boss, the next best reference would be another management-level person you worked with (but not directly for). Other good references could be high-level clients or colleagues.

How Many References Do You Need?

For most jobs, you really only need 2-3 references.

How Can You Make Sure Your References Say Good Things?

First, choose references who can speak as much as possible to the kind of work you’re interviewing for. But if they can’t because you’re switching careers, that’s OK. They can still speak to your work ethic and character.

Before you go to your interview, call your references to let them know what’s going on. Tell them about the job and what’s important for them to mention. You can even jog their memory about specific things you did that would be helpful for them to mention.

Have a frank discussion with the people you ask to be references to make sure they’re comfortable being your reference. If you sense hesitation and aren’t sure they’ll be enthusiastic, choose another reference.

When you have a good lineup of people who can speak for you, be sure to maintain those relationships. A few times a year, send them messages or emails about what’s happening in your career, or send them things you know they’ll be interested in. Always thank them for speaking for you and let them know how it turns out.

*For more help with your job search or interviews, watch one of our free job search and interview training webinars.