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Do You Know Your Secondary References?

When conducting your job search, the message you deliver needs to be controlled. This is a critical time in which you must manage and maintain a positive brand presence. Communicate your unique selling proposition through your resume, your social media presence, your interviews and your references. The most vulnerable of these are your references. You should coach your references in advance of supplying the names, numbers or email addresses to a potential employer. But did you know that many recruiters and employers use your references to gain access to secondary references?  Your secondary references are prime targets for the queries of hiring employers because in most cases they are unprepared. Here are some strategies to strengthen your secondary references.

Know Your Secondary Reference (Photo: iStockphoto)

Identify Eight References
Carefully select eight professional references. Consider former managers, peers and clients who are impressive and who know your capabilities, and are willing and able to serve as your advocate. After these individuals agree to serve as references, provide them with your resume and an overview of the position for which you are interviewing, including any key touch points that they will need to know. References that are informed about the role will be in an excellent position to represent you.

Primary vs. Secondary
Give each of your eight references a complete list of all eight references’ contact information. Do not designate them as primary or secondary. Inform your references that employers may ask, “Is there anyone else that you know that I can call to ask about Chris?” Coach the references to provide the company with contact info from the list you created. Let them know that you have selected your most trusted and notable colleagues for the list. In other words, there is no “A list” in your mind; you will use all of the references at one time or another.

Cold References
Despite your efforts, some ardent HR managers recruiting key employees will go one step further to investigate a candidate. This includes networking to ask your former co-workers what they think of you. They may network in the real world or through social media. This is not a routine activity. However, the vetting process is more strenuous for top managers and other critical positions. One defense against this tactic is to stay in touch with former managers and workers with whom you have worked closely.

Don’t take the reference-checking process for granted. Sure, HR managers know that the references you provide are “in the bag.” However, it’s those secondary references that can be loose cannons.  Shore up your references by soliciting and informing a stable of eight great references.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at


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