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Asking for a Friend: How Important Are References in a Job Search?

Proactive or reactive?
H. Michael Burgett
Contributing Writer

Dear Mike:

Let me start by saying that I have never had to look for a job. However in a recent downsizing with my long term employer, my role was eliminated. As a result I have updated my resume and LinkedIn profile and have begun applying to opportunities.

But I have a question. Are references still a thing? Do employers still value them?

I’m curious to know how much importance employers place on references when making hiring decisions. Your insights would be greatly appreciated.




Hi Patty,

I’m sorry to hear about your recent job change, but I commend you for being proactive in your job search and preparing for the process ahead.

When it comes to references, the landscape has evolved significantly over the past couple of decades. In “ancient” times, it was common for job seekers to be asked for references, with the assumption that each reference would be diligently checked. It could even cause delays in the hiring process if a reference couldn’t be reached.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that the practice of conducting thorough reference checks has become less prevalent. While some studies suggest that over 80% of companies still claim to conduct reference checks, the actual implementation varies significantly.

In reality, some employers no longer rely heavily on reference checks, as the likelihood of receiving a negative reference is quite low. After all, why would someone provide a reference who would speak negatively about the candidate? (However, believe me, it does happen!)

That being said, it’s crucial to proactively prepare for the possibility of reference checks. In fact, taking the initiative and being prepared can actually strengthen your position in the interview process.

I recommend spending time cultivating a list of 3 to 5 professional contacts who can serve as references. Be deliberate in selecting individuals who hold important positions and can speak positively about your qualifications, skills, work ethic, and experiences.

By proactively developing a strong reference list, you demonstrate your preparedness and professionalism. Even if not all employers request references, having them readily available can give you an advantage and showcase your commitment to thoroughness.

Best of luck in your search!


P.S. And here is a crazy thought – what if you provided this list of references proactively when you send in your resume, even when not asked. I would argue that this is a technique that shows that you are on the ball and thoughtful in your job search process. I suggest trying it as it just might be another differentiator that sets you apart from the crowd.


TNCR Community – what advice would you add to this thread? Do you have a perspective that you can share? Have a career question for Mike? Email him directly at

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