Beyond The Uniform

Selecting Professional References

By Audrey Prenzel, CARW, CEIC, B.A., B.Ed

Don’t take this step lightly! Once you have decided to hit the civilian job market, at some point you’re going to be faced with selecting professional references. These are contacts that potential interested employers want to question regarding your suitability for their requirements.

Prepare a formal reference sheet as references do not go on the résumé. Put them in the order you would like them contacted. This sheet is not to be distributed with the résumé and provided only when asked for. Make sure the letterhead and overall style is consistent with the cover letter and résumé. Detail full contact data so the prospective employer has a frame of reference for who he or she is calling. List the person’s name, title, company, and the complete mailing address. Specify whether the phone number is a home, work or cell line. Include an email address if possible as this is often a convenient communication method for busy professionals and sidesteps the issue of different time zones and contacts located posted to diverse global locations.

I’ll use my own data to show you what it can look like:

Audrey Prenzel, CARW, CEIC, B.A., B.Ed.
Career Transition Specialist
Résumé Resources
80 Parkview Heights
Trenton, Ontario
K8V 6P5
(w) 613.394.3680
(c) 613.391.7029
(e) [email protected]
You may have heard that in many parts of the civilian sector, it is corporate policy not to give out performance references. They will only confirm that you were an employee and the timeline you worked there. You are in a fortunate position that your COs or whoever you select, can talk about your performance. Be tactical by approaching a colleague who does have the latitude to share his or her insight.

Prequalify your contacts. Ensure they are articulate and are “quick on their feet” as calls usually come in unexpectedly.

It is not enough to ask, “Will you be a reference for me?” Whether you are comfortable with it or not, make the effort to ask them if they are willing to make positive statements about you. Do people sometimes agree to be a reference and then say negative things? YES! I hear about this all of the time so don’t chance it.

If you already suspect your supervisor may not have good things to say about you, then find a colleague or a former supervisor who can vouch for your work ethic.

Keep it professional. I’d suggest you not include character or personal references. The only time it may be advisable to do so is in very isolated scenarios. For example, if you were a treasurer for a community service-type club and you want to use a Board member of the group to brag about your fiscal acuity and budgetary talents, then by all means include him or her.

Make sure your contacts are aware of your career search and keep them informed of your progress. This is both strategic and courteous. So often I hear reports of former CF Members being caught off guard and they are not prepared at all to vouch for the job seeker’s candidacy.

Help out your references by giving them some specific information to share with the person enquiring. You can suggest they mention an important project you undertook, a major problem you solved, or perhaps a critical time saving initiative you spearheaded.

Once you land your dream job, don’t forget to inform and thank your references again. Unlike the CF, almost every job market is unstable to some extent, so you may need to call on them sooner than you think.

Audrey Prenzel, CARW, CEIC, B.A., B.Ed. is the founder of Résumé Resources. She is proud to be the career expert for Audrey is the author of “Military to Civvie Street: The Complete Job Transition Guide for those Leaving the Canadian Air Force, Army & Navy”. She holds numerous roles with Career Directors International including Military Transition Expert Program Leader, Aerospace/Defence Program Leader, Mentor, Canadian Advisor, and Director of International Relations. Visit Audrey’s website

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