References Can Make or Break You

By Dr. Howard Gauthier

Cece just sent her application in for a position as a marketing director in a small midwestern company.  She was excited to apply for the position, but was also glad to have this part of the process behind her.  She can now cross this item off her “to do” list.

During work the next day, she was having lunch with David in the break room.  Since they were the only two people in the room, Cece shared with David that she applied for a position as a marketing director at a company near her hometown.  David has more experience than Cece when it comes to the job search process.  He has had three positions since college and had taken a job search orientation class at the local community college.

As the two were discussing the position, Cece became concerned when David asked if she had listed her former boss as a reference. David knew that despite how good Cece is at her job, he also knew that she and her former boss didn’t see eye-to-eye on things.  Cece’s former boss didn’t get along with anyone.  Cece responded “Of course I listed him as a reference, he was my boss for three years.”  David countered by asking “Did you ask him if he felt comfortable in providing you with a great reference?”  With that, Cece looked strangely at him and responded – “no, should I have?”

David went on to explain how important references are to the job search process.  He told her that references can make or break your job search.

David is correct.  A poor or negative reference will almost always keep you from getting the job.  If you have any question in your mind if a reference would be negative or even mediocre, either do not use them or ask them if they feel comfortable in providing an outstanding reference for you.

Whomever you select to be a reference, make sure they give you a positive recommendation and can positively influence the hiring manager.  You are better off using a reference that you know will give you a positive recommendation, than taking a chance on a negative former boss.  While a former supervisor would be a good person to have as a reference, they are only good if they can sell you.  In other words, select your references wisely.

In the end, Cece didn’t get the job.  She doesn’t know for sure, but she believes that one of her references had been negative.  Even the smallest mistake, like a poorly selected reference, can affect the outcome of the job search process.

Remember, ultimately the job will go to the candidate who is best prepared and who effectively executes the basics of the job interview process. In all you do, you will want to EXECUTE FOR SUCCESS! For more on the basic fundamental skills needed for the job search process, check out our book Getting Hired in College Sports at


Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University.  He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach.  He is also an author of 8 books.  Check out his new book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition.  For more information on our sports careers blog, go to





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