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When you leave a company in Germany the company is required by law to hand out a letter in which the employment, the duration, and your role are described. The employee can request an extended version (most do as I am aware) and many companies will send the extended version right as a default. The detailed reference will elaborate on the employee's responsibilities and behavior. The law states that these reference letters have to be correct and truthful. Therefore future employers trust these letters and usually do not ask for further references.

I know this is quite different in other countries. And that in the US, in Canada, or Australia it is the norm that the applicant gives a list of people and their contact information who will give a reference. And the hiring manager will call these people and ask them questions about the application.

As someone not familiar with this concept, I wonder how to pick these people? On the one hand, it is obvious that you should only list people you trust to give a good reference. But on the other hand, what are hiring managers interested in, what kind of people should be on the list?

  • Should you focus on your managers? Or peers you work closely together with? What about direct reports which you mentored and coached?
  • Are titles important? Better only pick people with high positions? Or at well-known companies?
  • Should you only pick people you worked together with very recently? Or is it okay to name someone who was a manager or co-worker many years ago?
  • I even read that sometimes you ask people you never worked together within a professional context, but they know you well – like teachers, trainers.
  • Or should you try to collect a list of people that basically covers everything: A long time range and a mix of co-workers, reports, and managers? And then let the hiring manager decide who to call?
  • Just for the record, in Australia there is a bit of a mix between written and verbal references (referee). It wouldn't be unusual for a candidate to provide a few written references, and then as things progress provide contact details for verbal references. – Gregory Currie Oct 28 at 8:36
  • This is locale specific, in some countries anyone can be a reference. In others only certain people. In my own country a chief, clergyman, government official, or business owner are the only valid references – Kilisi Oct 28 at 8:37
  • Sounds interesting. Would it be rude to ask which country that is? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 9:39
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A good reference is going to be simply one that the company finds acceptable, and provide the company with a sense of trust that you are all that you say you are.

It's both as simple and as complicated as that.

Typically different interviewers will hold different opinions about what is important.

So, typically you would find someone who would:

  • Be respected for their opinion
  • Understand your capabilities well
  • Speak highly of you

If they fundamentally cannot tick those three boxes, I wouldn't bother asking them for a reference.

Also, often companies will give you a hint about the first requirement. They may ask you specifically something like: "Someone you've worked with in the past 2 years", or "Someone you reported to".

And really, you must absolutely ask your references for permission before giving out their numbers.

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    I'd add that it is usually a good idea to have references from a variety of working relationships; a direct manager, a co-worker/peer, and sometimes someone outside of your department that interacts with you regularly. – Steve Oct 28 at 14:20
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The best references are the ones who are able to speak capably about you, will give you a good review, and are at least somewhat charismatic over phone/email. Why? Because the worst thing that could happen is someone you pick gives a negative review. After that, you want someone who will sound convincing, they're selling you a bit.

As an aside- references are treated very differently by different companies. Many won't bother to ask for them. Many who do won't bother to call them. Even of those that do- they only call after they decided to hire you. Its to look for red flags, nothing short of a terrible review is going to get them to rethink their decision. In my career I've only known 1 person to fail a reference check, since you pick who they're calling you really screwed up if you do. So don't worry about it too much. Managers and peers are fine.

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