Tips and Tricks to Follow When Seeking Professional References


Understanding who and what to ask for professional references is a key element in your job searching process, and could be the fine line that separates you from employment and unemployment. Regardless of the type of job that you’re going after, there’s a very high chance that the potential employer is going to ask for both character and professional references to give some basis to everything that you’ve told them. It’s important that your references are effective, and designed to give you the most positive outlook that you can get. You can use these suggestions to help you on your reference search.

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The Right People to Ask

Knowing who to ask to be your references is just as important as having them. You are going to want to make sure that you have a list of people who have positive things to say about you. For those of you who have been in the workforce for some time, you can consider former employers, managers, clients, and even co-workers who can act as a witness to your character. If you’re entering the workforce for the first time, teachers, coaches, and community leaders are excellent sources of recommendations.

Once you have your list, consider some of the following questions:

  • What is Your Relationship?: You should ensure that the references you choose are people that have worked closed with you. Whether that’s a teacher, manager, or volunteer leader, it doesn’t matter. You could get a reference from the president of the company that you worked for and it would look impressive, however, you want your references to be personal and if they haven’t worked with you directly, they won’t be able to provide that.
  • Do They Suit the Job You’re Applying For?: Any type of reference is good to have, especially in your back pocket. However, for your professional references, try to keep them geared towards the specific job that you’re applying for.
  • Have You Worked with Them Recently?: People change and employers know this. For the most part, the person responsible for your potential hiring is going to want references from within the last couple of years.
  • Are You Confident in Your Reference?: Above anything else, you want to make sure that the person you choose for your reference is clear, concise, and capable of giving a thorough and positive reference.

What Should You Be Asking of Your References?

As a rule of thumb, your references are going to be given by someone that you used to work with, or work for. You can expect your potential employer to ask questions that relate to reliability, attitude, work ethics, experience, accomplishments, and how long you maintained your position with the company. Some of the below points can be used when seeking out your references:

  • Understand Your Current Employer’s Stance: Unless you’re certain that your supervisor or manager at your current job thoroughly supports growth and the moving of positions, it’s probably best to keep your job search under wraps. In the case of employers who you believe may consider you to be disloyal if you ask for a job reference, you could seek out the reference of a co-worker who understands your skills, duties, and experience.
  • Be Familiar With Company Obligations: While you’re in the process of asking for professional references, you should make it a priority to understand the company’s stance on references. Because of legal reasons, some organizations might only be permitted to disclose certain information on current and past employees. If this is the case with one of your references, make sure that you request that they let the potential employer know that they can only give out so much information because of policies. Otherwise, it could come across as a bad reference.

Understanding How to Ask for a Reference

Once you have come to terms with who you want to ask for a reference, you need to figure out how you want to ask them, and how you want them to give the reference as well. There are a few different ways that this can be done, but convenience is best, and you should always ask your reference how they would prefer to be contacted.

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  • Ask the person you’ve selected by phone, email, or in person. When doing so, ensure that you’re asking them what their preferred method of contact would be should a potential employer reach out to them.
  • The majority of employers are going to want to speak to references over the phone; however, you may come across times where an essential reference is no longer with the company because of retirement, or other factors. In this case, you could ask for a reference letter. However, ensure that you make sure that this type of letter is an acceptable reference for your future employer, and ask the reference if they wouldn’t mind being contacted by phone if needed.

Be Gracious and Thankful

Once everything is said and done, make sure that you’re thanking your references for providing positive feedback on the work that you’ve done for them in the past. When you’re gracious, they are going to be more open to the idea of acting as a character witness in the future if it’s needed.

References are a vital tool when you’re looking for a job, and they play a huge part in the employer’s decision-making process. You should treat your reference like you would your resume. Ensure you’re picking the ones that highlight your positive attributes, and leave out the tidbits of information that aren’t important to the job that you’re applying for.

What experience do you have with references? Have you ever given one? What would you like a reference to say about you? Start a discussion.


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Tips and Tricks to Follow When Seeking Professional References

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