What to Look for in an Accounting Reference


The references you give to a potential employer can make or break your chance of getting the job. Here’s what you should look for when you’re asking someone to be your referee.

When you’re on the market for an accounting job, or for jobs in the financial services field generally, making a good impression with prospective employers should be foremost on your mind. A large part of this involves having strong, credible references – people who can vouch for your skills, experience, and character as a candidate.

But don’t think that just any old reference will do. To really stand out and raise your chances of landing that plum accounting job, you need to find the kind of references who can put in the absolute best word on your behalf. Here’s what to look for, then, in a referee.

Someone who can speak to your concrete accomplishments

Because they speak so clearly to your past performance, references are one of the key indicators of credibility that employers and recruiters use to assess job candidates for accounting jobs. You will want, therefore, to select an individual who you’ve previously worked for – or with – in a past accounting job. This should be someone who can speak with authority about what you did for the organization and what kind of results you produced in that role.

It’s crucial that the person you pick is capable of giving an accurate and detailed account of what you accomplished and how. If you not only streamlined an accounting process, but took the initiative to do so, your referee should be able to point that out to a prospective employer.

The person should know you well enough – and have worked closely enough with you – to really remember what it is you did, and what your overall performance in your accounting job looked like. And of course, you should have a conversation or two, before the fact, with your referee to help refresh their memory on your strengths and triumphs.

Someone who can point out all of your skills – not just the technical ones

Your referee should be able to speak clearly – and flatteringly – not only about your technical skills, as relevant to the job you’re vying for, but also your interpersonal skills and other informal qualities. Someone who only knows what you’re capable of practically, but doesn’t have a strong sense of your personality, the way you give or take direction and collaborate with others, is not an ideal referee.


You want someone, in other words, who can talk about the leadership skills you demonstrated as an accountant, or can speak to your ability to receive feedback constructively. Employers are increasingly looking beyond just paper skills and experience, and hiring with consideration to how a candidate will fit with their company. Your referee should be in a position to provide them with the right clues as to whether or not you’re a good fit for their organization.

Someone who understands what’s most important

If an employer is checking up on your references, you’re presumably far along in the hiring process. You’re close to the finish line, and the stakes are high. You’ve probably already had one or two interviews already (and hopefully managed to avoid asking the wrong questions, or flubbing an answer to the obligatory question about salary expectations), so you should have the advantage of knowing more or less what the employer in question is looking for in a candidate for the accounting job in question.

That means you can prep your referee accordingly. You should make sure they touch on only the most salient points when they chat with your potential employer. Ensure that you trust the person enough to heed your instructions, and then to stick the script when the call comes in.

Your referee should be able to speak clearly – and flatteringly – not only about your technical skills, as relevant to the job you’re vying for, but also your interpersonal skills and other informal qualities.

Someone whose role fits the bill

Typically, an employer will look for a referee who filled a supervisory role in a past accounting job; a fellow manager is often seen as a more credible source of information. In some cases, however, an employer will be interested in a “360 reference,” which involves also talking to your former co-workers, or even people who reported to you in your prior accounting job. Make sure that you know exactly what kind of reference the employer or company is looking for, before you proceed.

The type, and quality of reference that you present to would-be employers is a significant piece of the puzzle that can help you nab the desired accounting job or financial services position. Be sure to choose wisely. Select someone who not only knows you through and through as a professional, but can speak articulately and enthusiastically to your promise as a candidate.

What are the qualities you look for in a referee? How do you go about preparing them when you’re interviewing for an accounting job? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!