How References Can Make or Break Your Job Offer

How References Can Make or Break Your Job Offer

By: Melissa Chungfat
  6996 reads

Many people don’t manage their relationship with their references very well. Too often, job seekers are reactive and, as soon as they get a call for an interview, they frantically scramble to put together a list of references. “Who did I volunteer with last year? Who was that professor who liked my work? Who was the boss who really liked me?”

Once they have a list, many of them make these mistakes:

1. Not telling their references about the upcoming interview that they are so excited about

2. Not keeping in touch with their references after they get the job

Imagine how your reference might feel if they get a surprise call from someone they don’t know at all, get caught off guard, and even worse, may not remember the project details because it’s been so long since you last contacted them.


If I was the employer making the phone call and the reference sounded surprised to get a call from me, the first thing that would cross my mind is, “The candidate wasn’t proactive about telling their reference about the job.” How would you feel when someone you haven’t spoken with in years sends you an email out of the blue and said, “Hey how’s it going? Can I ask for a favour?” Annoyed? Confused? Why are they asking for a favour after all of these years of non-communication?

This situation happens a lot in personal and professional situations and I’m sure I have been guilty at times without realizing it. I personally get irritated when people ask me for things when they haven’t bothered to check in with me casually when they didn’t need something. So, I am often reluctant to sincerely help because I think they may just not keep in touch after they get what they need. Whether you are just starting your first co-op job or have been working for some time after university, your references can be the determining factor whether or not you get your next job, especially in cases where two candidates both interviewed really well and have equal skill levels. So it’s a good idea to not only prep your references, but also keep in touch with them after you land the role.

Prepping Your References

When I worked as a Co-op Student Advisor, I always told students to connect with their three to five references and say:


How are you doing?

I just wanted to let you know that I am interviewing with [employer’s name] for [name of the position] and I just wanted to make sure it was okay if I list you as a reference.

If so, I attached the job description for your information.

Thank you so much and please let me know if you have any questions.

[Your name]”

When people asked me to be their reference, it helped me a lot to see the job description or knowing the most important qualities the employer was looking for so that when I got the call, I could speak to the candidate’s strengths and give relevant examples. Otherwise, I would be put on the spot and just say the first ideas that came to my head. If you don’t prepare your references or keep in contact with them at all, they may be caught off guard when they get a call because they have no job details except for what the employer has said to them on the phone in a short conversation. Give your references the relevant job information so that when your potential employer calls, they can speak about your best qualities and projects.

Staying Connected with Your References

I have built good relationships with the people I used to volunteer and work with for the last 12 years. I am good friends with some and have strictly professional relationships with others. I keep in contact with my more professional references via email to ask how things are going, or to set up a meeting with them once or twice a year. Even when you are already working, it is important to be in touch with your references once in awhile to maintain the relationships. That way, when the time comes where you need to ask them to be a reference, it won’t be so awkward because you communicated with them consistently when you didn’t need something.

When it’s time to connect with your reference, it’s not so awkward to email them and say:

“Hi Roza,

How was the conference last week?

Great news! I have an interview coming up with a consulting company as a Project Coordinator. I was wondering if it would be okay if I list you as a reference. I attached the job description so you have more information about the role and I am happy to give you a call at a time that works for you to tell you about it whenever you have a few minutes.

Thanks so much! Let me know if you have any questions.

Melissa ”

Saying Thank You

I couldn’t believe when I heard stories of people who don’t say thank you after someone agrees to be your reference, or to even update their reference to say they got the job. Your reference, who is most likely a busy person, will have spent between 15 to 45 minutes reviewing the job description and speaking to an employer to help you out. At the very least, you can show gratitude by thanking your reference for taking time out of their day. Depending on your relationship with your reference, you can show your gratitude by either sending a personalized thank you card, a small gift, or take them out for coffee or a meal. If you are not very close to your reference, a phone call and email would be appropriate. And of course, let them know the outcome of the interview, especially if you get the job!

Key Points

Here are the key lessons to guiding your references during your job search journey and maintaining great relationships with them:

  • Prepare your references before your interview by giving them the job description and the most important details about the role
  • Keep in touch with your references once in a while when you don’t need anything from them
  • Send a thank you card, small gift, take them out to coffee, or, for the more professional references give them a phone call or send an email to show your gratitude

By following these basic practices while you are job hunting and/or already working, you will show the utmost respect for your references’ time and effort and they will surely wish to help you land your next job. 


Lead image courtesy of Twin Work & Volunteer

About Author Top

Melissa Chungfat

Melissa Chungfat is an Online Facilitator at MOSAIC where she teaches professional newcomers to Canada for Settlement Online Pre-Arrival. She is an SFU Communication Co-op graduate, freelance writer, world adventurer, cyclist, and cheese connoisseur. Contact her at

 About Author Bottom

Beyond the Article: 

  • Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn
  • What happens after the job interview when your references are checked? Find out by reading this
  • Along with your references, you should always bring a portfolio of work samples to an interview. Melissa shares how to showcase your work during an interview
  • Ever attended a networking event alone? Melissa has. Here she shares how it's done. 
Posted on November 10, 2016