Selecting Robust References

August 2019
Share this article

Nurturing your professional relationships throughout your career is critical, and this really comes into play when you’re ready to select references for the decision-making portion of an interview process. For a role in public relations, you should consider recent supervisors, lateral team members, direct reports, clients and even trusted media contacts.

An employer is looking for a number of things during a reference check, including: a description of past job duties and experience, a view into your strengths and weaknesses, any accomplishments, and what it’s like to work with you or be supported by you, among other things. A robust array of references can provide potential employers, whether they work in-house or at an agency, with a multi-lens view of who you are as a professional, a service provider and as a colleague.

  • Supervisors: Your most recent supervisors, or a current one, whenever possible, will have a direct line of sight into your current capabilities and contributions to the team and organization on a grand scale. They know what you are tasked with handling, what your strengths are, any limitations and can attest to your professional growth. A supervisor is also well equipped to share details about what you, as an individual, need to succeed.
  • Lateral teammates: Colleagues working alongside you, at or near your level, are great choices for references. They can speak to how the work was divided up among your team, how you function in a variety of circumstances at all stages of a PR campaign, and what you bring to the table as an individual. Your colleagues often know you well on a personal level, and can transparently share what it’s like having you on the team.
  • Direct reports: If the position you are interviewing for is a leadership role or one with managerial elements, someone who reported directly to you or who you have mentored is a great choice for a reference. They can share what they learned from you, what your management style was like, and how you approach difficult conversations around performance. A direct report can also share what sort of environment you created for your colleagues and junior staffers.
  • Clients: It may not always be possible or appropriate to share a client as a reference, but in cases where you do have a long-term, successful relationship with a current or former client, they are the best individuals to speak to your capabilities as a service provider. A client can speak to your counseling capability, how you approach issues and how successful campaign implementation was.
  • Media contacts: Media relationships are crucial in public relations, and it can be beneficial for a potential employer to have an understanding of your style when dealing with the media, whether it’s a traditional or digital outlet. Do you make phone calls or work primarily via email? Do you approach them with relevant stories that are in line with their subject matter? Do they trust you enough to reach out to you directly for story material? They can also attest as to why they might rely on you as opposed to the many other publicists contacting them.

Keeping your professional relationships active over the course of your career will benefit you greatly during the reference-checking process. Make sure not to list them on your résumé. You want to be able to ask for permission and also give your references a bit of notice that a potential employer may be reaching out on your behalf. It’s helpful to share a job description of what you are interviewing for with them, too.

Lastly, gratitude goes a long way. You will not always know that a company has called your reference, but if you are aware that they have delivered a reference for you, then be sure to say thank you, whether or not you land the new role.


Christina StokesChristina Stokes is the vice president and director of talent acquisition at Rubenstein. She is passionate about refining and enhancing employee engagement, company culture, and diversity and inclusion efforts. Twitter: @NewYorkRoses.
Share this article