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When filling out my reference list on a job application, would it be acceptable to list a previous subordinate as a professional reference (when applying to another company)? I managed this person for 5 years, they have since left (in good standing) to another department and have moved to a higher position (same title as mine). We still maintain a good professional relationship and they've been in their new department for 1 year.

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    What is the type of role you are applying for ? If it is a managerial role, your ex subordinate can vouch for your management skills but if it is technical or something which they have not seen about you, then they will not be a good reference – PagMax Dec 10 '17 at 7:59
  • Anecdotal: I hopped on a call with the hiring head of a company as a reference for my former manager last month. Similarly to yourself, we maintain a good professional relationship, and it's been about 18 months since he left our company. Was I the only reference? Probably not. – bluescores Dec 10 '17 at 20:14
  • It is a higher managerial role in the same field – dangel Dec 10 '17 at 22:13
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Is it OK to list a previous subordinate\employee as a reference?

Certainly.

It's fine to have a group of references with different relationships to you - some bosses, some peers, some subordinates.

But in general, folks doing reference checks would prefer to check with your former bosses. They are the ones who could answer the typical "How was OP as a worker?" and "Would you hire OP again?" questions.

If you include previous subordinates/employees as references, make sure there are enough bosses as well.

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This is acceptable, but it may not be sufficient.

When potential employers are talking to references, they are looking for a few simple things:

  1. Can they verify you worked at Company A?
  2. Can they verify you worked in the role you put on your resume?
  3. Can they verify the dates you were in that role?

Other than these points, and a couple of fairly vague questions about you, the employer shouldn't be asking much more - and your reference should be saying less (unless they can giving a glowing reference).

The verification part ends up putting the employer into a Catch-22 - they also have to verify that the referee is qualified to answer the questions. The easiest thing is to talk to the HR at Company A, or someone else that is easy to confirm is at Company A by calling the company's main number and asking for that person.

Of course, it is great to have a referee that is going to help sell you to a potential employer so, by all means, include this person as a reference - but you should have already sold yourself in the interview, and remember the new company is seeking confirmation of details you've provided, which means you need to have a verifiable contact at your old company, too.


disclaimer: it isn't always possible, especially if your previous company was toxic and you know you can't rely on using them as a reference.

  • Is a reference supposed to directly verify your work history? I was under the impression that they're there purely to provide information on your work performance and character traits. – Dukeling Dec 10 '17 at 6:28
  • @dukeling that kind of thing is tricky - a referee is either going to "stick to the facts", or exaggerate... Really, you should get an idea on character from the interview(s) – HorusKol Dec 10 '17 at 11:26
  • @Dukeling If it's a background check, yes. But I agree, I've never had an actual reference need to verify history beyond that I worked there and was good to work with, have mad skills, etc. Interestingly, for my last BGC (at a Fortune 10 company), anyone who could verify that I worked there was sufficient. Oddly, they couldn't verify themselves that I had worked at that company 8 years prior, I had to have a former coworker do it. I even have the same user id, but they still couldn't tell I'd ever worked there. – Chris E Dec 10 '17 at 19:04

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