Here is a compilation of reference issues and tips from various sources. As an employment agency, Integrated Staffing has encountered all of these!
Personal references? Don’t even bother. Except in unique circumstances, you should make a practice of ensuring that all references are past employers. If you have never before been employed, try to provide references from a volunteer, internship or extracurricular capacity.
Your references aren’t prepared. It’s important to have your references know a little about the position you’ve applied for so they can discuss your most relevant skills and provide you with the strongest possible reference. Applying for a variety of positions without letting your references know is equivalent to throwing both them and yourself under the bus.
Your references can’t speak to your job experience. When you’re young, you may not have that many people who can give a recommendation on your professional experience, but resist filling the list with your friends and family. Instead, look to past college professors, internship or volunteer coordinators, or mentors to talk you up. If you have relevant job experience, your most recent employers and colleagues will be your strongest reference. Typically, the more recent the reference, the better. References tend to forget many of the specifics of working with you over time.
You haven’t asked your references for permission. If you list former bosses on your reference list and they are unaware of it, you risk them being taken by surprise, and even possibly giving a shaky recommendation. Always ask for permission to use someone as a reference, and give them as much information about the jobs you’re applying for as possible.
You list bad references. Make sure you’d get a good recommendation from anyone you put on your reference list. Some employers will not formally give any more information other than dates of employment and information on your eligibility for rehire. If the answer is no, you may have lost your chance at the new job.
Your contacts are outdated. Before providing your references, you should make sure all the contact information is updated, so that you don’t waste the time of potential employers. You don’t want to hold up the reference-checking process because you can no longer locate one of your references. Checking in periodically is a good way to stay in touch and reconnect as well.
Your references are old. If you use a boss from 10 years ago as a reference, potential employers might scratch their heads and wonder why you don’t have anyone more recent who can vouch for you. If you do use an old boss or mentor, make sure it’s someone you still stay in touch with and you have more recent references to send along.
Your reference list is long (or short). No employer is going to call a lengthy list of contacts, so unless you’re asked differently, aim for three to five people—and ask what types of references the employer wants. Some employers only want to talk to previous bosses where others may want to hear from a client as well as a boss and a junior colleague.
You didn’t bring your references to your interview. Always be prepared and bring extra copies of your resume as well as your reference list to the interview. Better to have it and not need it than to be caught empty-handed.