Slam dunk references!


Many people get these terms confused. “Employment verification” is when the potential employer contacts your previous places of employment to verify you worked there. This is different from a professional “reference,” where someone is willing to discuss your work and vouch for your ability to do a good job. Today we’ll focus on great references.


References can take many forms, from a written letter of reference that can be verified, to a series of emailed questions about you, t.o a personal phone conversation. In all cases, the topic is YOU.


Years ago, it was acceptable to provide both “personal” and “professional” references. Today the credibility and relevance of personal references has disappeared. Forget the long-time family friends. Forget the priest or rabbi.  Concentrate only on people who can attest to and give specific examples of your work, work ethic, and work style (of course if you have worked with people you also have professional relationships with they can be a professional reference).

You want to offer 3-4 references. Try for a mixture of:    orgchart stickies

  • people above you (bosses, project leaders and managers)
  • people next to you (peers, colleagues and co-workers)
  • people below you (employees, mentees, support staff)
  • and people outside (vendors and customers).

Each of these people will view your skills and contributions differently, and can offer refreshing insight to a new employer.  You simply don’t want to be one-dimensional.

Also strive to present a mixture of work projects, different jobs and community projects. These can showcase your many talents, problem-solving and teamwork skills.


  1. As a freelancer, I don’t often think much about resumes and references, but gaining quality testimonials from previous clients about my work is a big part of being able to sell myself to future clients. Thanks for the reminder that it can also be handy to include testimonials from people I have worked alongside on joint ventures as well!

  2. Great advice here. Especially the piece on references. I’ve been out of the loop for a while on this….it’s good to know to just focus on professional references and use a mixture of them.

    I’ll be sharing this with my friends on the job search!