References can represent a critical step in landing your dream job. You need the right people to detail your experience and commend your work habits. However, this process can get muddled when you don’t have a clear direct supervisor in your previous jobs. Who should be your reference when you’re the boss?

A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that nearly nine in 10 companies (87%) make reference checks a routine part of their hiring process. And this statistic covers all levels of hiring. For key positions, like managers and executives, you can expect an exhaustive process to precede any personnel decision.

Meanwhile, reference checks often make a big difference in the final choice. On survey discovered that approximately a fifth of candidates (21%) got cut from the hiring process due to an unsatisfactory conversation with references.

As a result, it’s crucial to have strong references in place. But the process gets complicated when you’re the boss. Who can you draft to talk about your performance when you’re the one usually called on to provide a reference?

Don’t fear. You can turn to a few types of people to find potential references. Here are some contacts you should enlist as your proxy when you come from a managerial or executive background:

Anyone You Reported to

Even in a top management or C-suite position, you still had bosses. You might report directly to the CEO or, if you were in the top position, you likely had a board of directors or other shareholders that you answered to. Tap one or more of these to provide references for you when seeking new positions.


Any future employer will want information about your work habits, management techniques, and temperament. If they can’t get this information from a supervisor, close colleagues can provide a useful substitution.

Look for peers on the same rung of the corporate ladder. Ideally, find people who have worked with you on a regular basis. Consider the leaders of other teams that dovetailed with many of your projects. If possible, you want someone who has seen your leadership skills in action and can testify to the quality of the results you produce.

Former Employees

There’s another group of people who witnessed your leadership firsthand: your employees. This makes them another potential source of recommendations. They can provide details about your methods and the effectiveness of your process.

Here, the key is narrowing the field of potential references to find the best choice. Even great leaders can come into conflict with their employees—don’t rely on someone you have had a bumpy relationship with. Meanwhile, you’ll want someone who can speak eloquently about your abilities.

Find your best-spoken, most accomplished former team member to sing your praises.


Ultimately who benefits most from your strong leadership? Employees get guidance and improved productivity. Your colleagues experience the impact of your insights and collaboration. But, in the end, your customers are the ones who harvest the fruits of your hard work.

As a result, they can become your best advocates. They can explain how your talents provide value on the front lines.

Of course, some roles take place behind the scenes. You might not have had much direct communication with clients. In that case, this category might not work for you.

But if you have had strong customer interactions, consider reaching out to these clients when it comes time to name references. Their testimonials will carry a lot of weight.

Selected Friends

Personal references can provide useful information to potential employers. As such, consider designating a friend as one of your references.

However, you should be selective in this process. Ideally, you should find someone with a connection to your industry or a person with a professional connection to you.

For these reasons, competitors often make surprisingly excellent references. If you have rivals in the industry who respect your work, they can make strong advocates when you seek new horizons.

Ready for your next challenge? PrideStaff can help you find it. You’ll land in the kinds of executive roles that can take your career to the next level.

Contact PrideStaff today to learn more.

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