How Recent Should Job References Be?


how recent should job references be

If you’re in the process of getting together a list of references for a job search, you’re likely thinking about a variety of different factors for who should be on your list.

And one of the key questions about your job reference list is “how recent should job references be.”

This article is going to unpack that question for you and offer recommendations and best practices around the recency of your references.

How Recent Should Job References Be?

thinking person

As a general rule of thumb, references would ideally be people that you have worked with in the last five – ten years. However, that’s not a fixed rule, and the most important thing is that you list a quality reference for the job.

What do I mean by a quality reference? It’s someone that can speak accurately and credibly about your ability to do a job. Also, it’s somebody whose influence as a reference is going to position you as well as possible to receive a job offer.

So, at the end of the day, if you’re struggling on whether or not to list someone because of recency issues, but they would be a great references, I would recommend that you default to listing based upon quality.

Does It Matter How Old Your References Are?


It matters how old your references are to an extent. If all of your references are from positions that you held over ten years ago, that might raise some questions for a potential employer.

Ideally, your references would all be people that you worked with someone recently (within the last five – ten years).

However, as recommended in the last section, it’s more important to find someone that can speak credibly and accurately about your skills and that would paint you in a positive light for the position, so prioritize that over the age of the references.

How Often Should You Update References?

job application

References should be updated continuously. Basically, as you build good working and professional relationships with people throughout your career, you should continuously be updating your roster of references with those that could best represent your skills and abilities as a reference.

I find that it’s even helpful to maintain a running list of those that you could be good references for you that you just continuously update over time.

Also, it’s important to note that companies generally expect at least three – five references, so you’ll want your list to be at least that long.

Lastly for this section, here is a helpful deep-dive video from with their recommendations on when to update your resume and references:

What Happens If You Don’t Have Three References

If you don’t have three references that you can provide in your job search, then there are a couple of different ways that you can handle the situation:

1. Apply and List As Many References As You Have


If you truly don’t have three references, you can still attempt to move forward in the process and just provide as many references as you have.

Just be sure to explain the context for why you have less than three references.

Hopefully, it’s due to something like being early in your career and not having a large network yet. If you’ve been around for a while and still don’t have three references that you can list, then it’ll be important to network and build positive relationships so you can expand that list over time.

2. Get Creative In Who You List

business meeting

Even if you don’t have co-workers, colleagues, or people that would traditionally be considered professional references, you may still have folks that can serve in that capacity.

If you’re recently out of school, college professors or mentors could be good candidates. Or maybe you’ve done volunteer work where you built some relationships. Regardless, if you don’t have three people that you can list as a reference, you’ll need to think creatively about who you can list.

For a complete guide on who you can list as a reference, take a look at our article here.


Ultimately, you want references to be as recent as they can be. But the most important thing is that your references will be great sources of third-party information that can help you get the job.

So prioritize finding the best possible references, but try to find folks from the last five – ten years if you can.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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