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At a previous job I knew this person very well, she was actually my manager for over a year. Unfortunately when I left I didn't really keep in contact with her and I haven't talked to her for around eight months. I feel like she would still remember me as I was one of her star employees, but I feel awkward listing people whom I never talk too anymore.

Another person was the group leader of a volunteer group with the local police department, whom I often listed as a reference whenever I've applied for security-related jobs. She knew me for three years through the program, but I've been out of the program for three more, and out of contact.

Is it still acceptable to continue listing these people as references on my resume and job applications? At what point does a reference "expire," if ever?

Note: Verbal authorization was obtained to list these people as references previously.

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This is one of the most common mistakes I see job-seekers make. You should absolutely not give blind references. I've been on both sides of that call (the reference and the reference checker) and it is usually ugly and not helping the candidate one bit.

You should call all your references each time you give them as a contact for a potential employer for a number of reasons:

  1. It is common courtesy not to let them get blindsided with a reference call. The obviously want to represent you well (or else why did you list them?), but unless they are prepared they may feel anxiety that they are selling you short, because they weren't prepared. When people call references they ask specific questions about job performance and even someone who loved your performance may have trouble being convincing on the details if it has been 5 years since your name crossed their mind. Also, if that reference (correctly) thinks it is rude for you to do this, it may put them in a bad mood during the reference check which may be interpreted as a knock against you. Many companies limit managers from giving very much detail on reference checks, so the people who do them become good at picking up subtle clues and reading between the lines. You don't want them picking up subtle clues from someone who is grouchy about you in general.

  2. You want to make sure the contact information is still valid.

  3. Just like your cover letter, you want to customize what your reference is going to say to the needs of the job you are seeking. At a minimum you should brief the reference in advance about what aspects of your brand you want them to emphasize. You also want to refresh their memory about all the good things you did when working for them so they have the facts at their fingertips.

  4. Just because they gave you permission to use them as a reference x years ago doesn't mean they volunteered to be your hype-man for life. It is proper etiquette to give them a chance each time to opt out of being a reference.

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    Yes, yes, yes! No reference is forever - you have to check in with them every time. +1. – hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 3:51
  • I made the "blind reference" mistake recently. +1 for good advice! – It'sPete Jul 17 '14 at 23:18
  • 1001 upvotes for no reference is forever. I was once on the receiving end of this (someone listed me and I got called, had no clue about that person). It was a very uncomfortable 5 minutes on the phone. – Burhan Khalid Apr 17 '16 at 6:27

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