How to Properly Do Your References

References are an essential part of locking down a job offer. The higher up the corporate ladder the reference is, the better the chance you will be taken seriously as a candidate. There are some pitfalls I’ve observed as a staffing recruiter that will help as you move through the hiring process. Anybody that is working with me will get this same advice.

In today’s litigious society, most companies will not give a thorough reference. Instead, they will simply confirm the dates of employment. The reason for this is that companies fear a lawsuit for defamation if there is an assumption that a “bad reference” led to someone not getting a job. It’s all to avoid a lawsuit. References are harder than ever to come by, and can be increasingly disingenuous.

Reference Pitfalls

The first pitfall is your reference not being a previous/current manager. I see a lot of candidates using their co-workers as a reference; this is not going to play well. Best practice is to get at least 2 superiors that you directly reported to. Listing a colleague can come off as lazy, but even worse, can come off as suspicious. Questions start to percolate that the reason you are looking for a new job/left your last job has to do with why you are not listing your manager. Managerial references will speak to your work ethic and your character, along with your culture fit. A colleague or “equal” will likely say whatever you coach them to say, thus giving your potential employer no solid information.

The second major pitfall is not giving your references a heads-up that they will be contacted. I can’t tell you how many goose chases I’ve been on attempting to track down a reference who was not aware they were a reference. Furthermore, best practice is always to inform your reference that somebody will be calling them soon. Management tend to screen their calls and are thus difficult to connect with. On the same train of thought here, is verifying that this person is an appropriate reference. It might sound shocking, but I have had references remove themselves as a reference due to hardly knowing the candidate (or worse, having a bad relationship with them).


The final thought on references is that some people prefer to write at the bottom of their resume. “References available upon request”. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but it’s unnecessary filler. Everyone should have references no matter what, and the fact that its not explicit that you have them won’t stop a company from demanding them. From my experience, you are better off either listing them at the end, or not at all.

For the time being, references are still checked, albeit with more legal restrictions. Always let people know you are listing them as a reference, inform them when they will be called, and always list those who were truly your manager.

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How to Fix My Resume

In 90% of cases, a resume does not need to be re-written. It simply needs a couple tweaks and additions that make it look reinvigorated. The only time a full overhaul is needed is when the formatting and design are unreadable and convoluted. For someone needing resume help, not requiring a complete revamp brings them tremendous emotional relief.

The first thing I always ask is, “What do you think is wrong with your resume?” The answers I get start with, “I just feel like…

A) I’m not getting as many hits as I used to…”

B) I could add something more…”

C) I keep getting passed over because of it…”

What it comes down to is making the proper adjustments in regards to keywords, job titles, format, spacing, reduction of fluff, addition of specific tools, and clarity throughout.

I worked with a sales rep recently who needed resume advice. After talking through the resume, we concluded he needed three changes: Adding his sales achievements, adding specific CRM and software skills, and adding an additional page. (I will be discussing the myth of the 1 page resume in an upcoming video/article.)

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Some minor formatting tweaks and page rearrangement for the finishing touch, and that was it. After this, any manager or recruiter viewing his resumes could see he was a top 10% sales rep and well-versed with enterprise CRM tools.

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Most often, a resume needs to be shorter, not longer. It needs to be more concise when listing bullet points, and focused on reducing ambiguous character statements. I would delete the “Objective” statement as well. At least on the staffing side of the business, this is something you can remove without suffering any damage.

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Unless you are a graphic designer, artist, or game developer, you do not need to spruce up your resume with graphics or flashy designs. Both the ATS and the hiring manager are searching for content and competence, not creativity. If you cannot resist an intricate resume with graphics and multi-colored font, my recommendation is you better have substance and content behind all the glitz or the manager/recruiter will reject your resume because its all smoke and mirrors.

There’s more debate to be had about such topics like: cover letters, references, whether or not to add short contracts, how to address job gaps, etc etc. I encourage your deliberation and input surrounding everything I’ve written here.

To message me directly, find me on LinkedIn at

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