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If You Only List Previous Bosses As References, You’re Making A Big Mistake

Better job search referencesWhen it comes time to ask for job search references, most people think of their current and/or former bosses. And they stop there. This is logical. Your manager or boss is the best person to can provide an evaluation of you as an employee. And since you’re applying to someone who might become your new boss, it’s obvious as well: they want someone who can tell them what it’s like to work with you.

But if all you list as references are your former employers, you’re making a big mistake

There are other people in your employment life who make excellent references. I’m going to list them in order of importance, and in order of impressiveness.

But my suggestion is this: if you’re asked for a list of references in a job interview, mix it up. Don’t just send them to your former bosses. Send them to you former bosses AND some of these people. Showing a wide range of references can do a lot to show the depth and breadth of your professional experience.

The Next Best Job Search References

Competing Bosses

Do you work hand in hand with other companies? Do they like you and think you do good work? Are they people your new employer knows and does business with? If you have a reputation around your industry, then showing that you’re well known and well liked even outside previous employers can go a long way to showing you’re a player. It shows you work well with others, and better yet, it shows you have connections that your new boss might want to take advantage of.

Team Players THEY Know

In a similar vein, have you worked with someone at the company you’re applying to in a professional capacity? Do they like doing business with you? Then why not ask them to vouch for you? Getting a good word from your boss is one thing, but getting a good word from someone they know from their own team can be doubly powerful.

People They WANT To Know

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking about job search references one┬ádimensionally. It’s not just about getting someone to verify you’re not a psycho. It’s also about showing you can open doors for them. It can be very much aspirational. Do you know someone in the industry they respect? Even if you’ve never worked with them… if you have a connection they would aspire to make, think about it this way… the very act of verifying your reference can make a connection the hiring manager might value for the introduction alone.


Similar to competing bosses, but simpler. Do you have a list of clients or vendor that you work with all the time? Maybe your new boss has similar vendors. An ‘Attaboy from them will reassure them that you know the ropes. Better yet, do you have a list of clients, vendors or prospects that your new employer might covet? Showing that you have good relationships with those people might give your new employer all the reason they need to hire you.

In short, “references” aren’t only about previous employers and bosses. You should certainly have a previous boss on your reference list. But having a broader reference list can go a long way to helping you get hired.

This article was written by: Brian McCullough

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