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References Make a Difference

References are very important in the job search process

As anyone knows who has applied for internships and permanent jobs, potential employers will ask you for job references most times before they offer you a position. Potential employers spend a lot of money, time, and resources before they bring someone on to their teams so they want to make sure they know as much about a potential applicant as possible before offering the coveted position.

What types of references are there? There are several different types of references:

  1. Former Employers
  2. Colleagues
  3. Teachers/Professors
  4. Advisors/Career Directors
  5. Supervisors

Too many job applicants underestimate the importance of great references. When asking someone for a reference, approach them very politely and professionally either by email, mail, or phone and ask “are you in a position to give me a positive reference”? If they say “yes”, then great. If not, know that they are doing you a favor by not agreeing to be a reference and then not saying something positive about you.

I’m asked frequently to give people references and so are many other professionals. To make it easy on the person you are asking the reference, ask them if it would help if you would provide some “talking points”, a copy of your resume, and the link to your LinkedIn profile.

I always ask people to tell me a lot about themselves including where they grew up, what their passions are, what they are good at, and anything else that would be great for a potential employer to know. I can’t be a great reference if I don’t know you. So no, I won’t be a reference for someone I don’t know. That wouldn’t make any sense. So make sure to ask people who really know you well to serve as a reference. Know that a positive reference can and often does get you the job. So make sure to make as positive an impression on people you deal with at school, church, job, and wherever else you spend your time.

Make sure to keep your references apprised of where you are in the job search process and please remember that you must always ask someone to be a reference before you list them as one. If you land the job, make sure to let the reference know that as well. Too many people fail to thank their references. So, never fail to say “thank you” and also send a note and/or email.

Only provide the name of your references when the potential employer asks for them. You don’t want to “overuse” your references. Yes, your friends/former employers want to help you, but no, they don’t want to be contacted over and over again if you aren’t being seriously considered for a position.

For further information about references, there are many good resources available online. Here is some great information:

Good luck to you and remember that references are “make or break” contacts for your career success. Treat them as such and you’ll do well!

Margaret “Mag” Gottlieb is the Career Director at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. Connect with Mag on LinkedIn at or contact via email:

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