Job Search

Professional References: Who, When, and How

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When looking for a job, professional references play a pivotal role. Whether you’re at the initial application stage or have just aced an interview, the question of who to include as references and how to go about it can be a source of anxiety. Let’s demystify the dos and don’ts of professional references, from who you should choose to how to use them effectively.

What Are Professional References and When Are They Needed?

Professional references are individuals who can vouch for your qualifications and provide recommendations for a job. These references should be able to speak to your work ethic, skills, and accomplishments in previous roles. When you choose references who can offer specific examples of your abilities and reliability, you present compelling reasons for a potential employer to hire you.

You may be required to submit a list of professional references when applying for a job, alongside your resume and cover letter. Alternatively, you might be asked to share references during or after a job interview. Regardless of the timing, being prepared with a well-curated list of references is essential.

Selecting the Right Professional References

The individuals you choose as references can vary depending on your career stage and the specific job you’re pursuing. Consider the role’s requirements and the skills needed to excel in it. Opt for references who can attest to these job skills. Here are some examples of suitable professional references:

College Professors, Coaches, or Advisors: Ideal for recent college graduates or those with limited work experience, these individuals can speak to your academic achievements, character, and potential.

Former Employers: Your previous employer, the person who hired and paid you, can provide valuable insights into your work ethic and job responsibilities.

Former Supervisors: These individuals may have trained you, overseen your work, given you daily tasks, or provided direction. Their perspective can shed light on your performance and growth.

Former Coworkers: Colleagues you’ve worked closely with can discuss your teamwork skills, collaboration, and contributions to group projects.

Clients: If you offer personal services or freelance work (e.g., babysitting, dog walking, house sitting), clients can attest to your professionalism, reliability, and quality of service.

Volunteer Organization Leaders: If you’ve volunteered, leaders of the organizations you’ve worked with can speak to your commitment, dedication, and contributions to the community.

How to Approach Potential References

Now that you’ve identified potential references, how do you ask them to be part of your professional reference list? Here’s a courteous approach:

Contact in Advance: Reach out to potential references and ask for their permission before listing them. Ensure they are comfortable vouching for you.

Provide Information: Share details about the job you’re applying for, the skills and qualities the employer is looking for, and why you believe they are an excellent reference.

Prepare a Reference Sheet: Create a reference sheet with their contact information, relationship to you, and a brief description of your collaboration or association.

Keep Them Informed: Let your references know when they might be contacted by a potential employer. This ensures they are prepared for inquiries and can provide timely responses.

In summary, professional references are a crucial aspect of your job search. When chosen thoughtfully and approached respectfully, they can enhance your chances of securing that desired job offer. By following these guidelines, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the world of professional references and make a lasting impression on prospective employers.

Chris Kidd is the owner of,,, and

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