The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

January 27, 2020

How to Give a Great Reference


Every job search required you to identify the best references for you, but people rarely reflect upon what it takes to be a great reference for someone else. When a coworker or employee asks you to be a reference, it should that value your professional relationship and believe you would be able to speak highly to their skills and experience. However, there is a lot for you to consider as well, and so before saying “yes” to being a reference, make sure you can be a great one.

Be Informed About What They’re Applying For

You may only know this person through the lens of their current role, but you never know if they’re trying to transition to another position or industry. Before taking any calls or writing any letters, make sure you know what types of roles they’re applying for and what industries they’re focusing their search in.

Only Speak to What You Know

To avoid getting caught in a lie, try not to discuss characteristics that you didn’t experience firsthand while working with the person. Focus on the skills and experiences that you witnessed and if asked about something you’re unfamiliar with, just explain that was something you didn’t get an opportunity to see.

Keep It Mostly Positive, But Not Overly

You want to give the most positive recommendation you can, but it can be a red flag for the employer if there isn’t anything you think the person can improve upon. If you’re asked about something that isn’t the person’s strong suit, address it, but then shift to discussing more positive traits again.

Be Specific About Their Skills and Accolades

While they’ve surely gone over their experiences in their resume, cover letter, and preliminary interviews, noting their specific skills and abilities will validate what they’ve said and allow another person to elaborate on what they‘ll be able to bring to the position their applying to and the company as a whole.

Say “Yes” for The Right Reasons

Finally, and most importantly, make sure you only say yes if you can give the best recommendation possible. If there is any doubt in your head, it’s best to say “no” and allow them to find someone else. Don’t worry about them being upset, it’s much better to say “no” now than not give the reference they’d want.

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