Mastering the Art of Giving a Job Reference

Tips on how to give thorough, honest recommendations for brag-worthy candidates.


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If you've received a request to vouch for a job candidate who doesn't have enough good qualities to recommend him or her, then politely decline with a tactful explanation. If the job seeker respects you enough to ask for a referral, he or she probably also respects your opinion, so say something like, "I'm not familiar with the skills you have that qualify you for this job, so I don't feel comfortable recommending you for this position," or even, "I have some concerns about your preparedness for the position, but I'd be willing to discuss those concerns with you further."

[Read: 10 Common (and Corrosive) Job Reference Mistakes.]

You should also turn down a recommendation request if it's been awhile since you worked with the candidate. "The best references are ones that have worked with the person most recently. If it's been more than 10 years, for instance, it's very difficult to be a quality reference," McDonald says. "People change, and grow, and achieve and learn new skills in that time period, and you couldn't be a thorough reference, even if you have kept in touch."

Follow up. Job seekers should be courteous enough to let their references know they're on the hunt, that they've given their list of references to potential employers and the other intel mentioned before. They should also keep their references informed about where they're placed in a hiring process, so you may prepare if a call from a reference checker is imminent.

It's also a nice gesture for a candidate's reference to keep in touch through the selection process. Have sympathy for job offer-hungry candidates who are eager for any information regarding their fate, and inform them if you've spoken with the hiring manager, plus what was discussed. Let him or her know what your impressions are from the conversation. "When I give a reference for someone, I like to shoot them an email or give them a phone call, where I say, 'This is what was asked, and this is how I responded.' I'm candid with that person," McDonald says.