5 People Who Should Be in Your Professional References

In completing a job application, one must include a list of professional references either as a section in their resume or on a separate document. This reference list will serve as a contact list for people who can vouch for your expertise in the job you are applying for. That’s why you need to know who to use as a reference to amp up your chances of landing the job.

What are professional references?

A professional reference is a recommendation from a person who will vouch for your qualifications for a job you are applying for. This person has in-depth knowledge about your work ethic, skills, strengths, and achievements. That said, the professional references you should tap are former employers and colleagues, clients, managers, mentors, teachers, and more people who have worked with you.

These people can provide the correspondence proving your service, length of employment, achievements, and outstanding qualifications. So in choosing your professional references, you need them to be somebody that has observed you at your most productive state.

The difference between a professional reference list and a personal reference list

Both professional and personal references are necessary for your job application. While these two are similar in their purposes, there is a fine line between the two that you should know.

Your professional references are the people that have worked with you for at least six months within the past seven years. These people can be your coworker, supervisor, or even employer. These are the colleagues who can attest to your work ethic, daily work habits, and performance. So long as they can provide useful insights about how you tick in the workplace and how you contribute to the company goals, they are good to include.

On the other hand, personal references consist of people you did not work with but can describe your character, values, integrity, and goals. That said, you can include people from different aspects of your life—school, volunteering, associations, and friendships. Make sure that these people can speak nicely of you and you’ve known them for at least a year.

Importance of having a professional reference list

Employers want this list because this gives them an idea of how compatible you are to work with the company. Here are other reasons why you should take this requirement seriously:

  • Proves how you perform at work and sheds light on your strengths and weaknesses
  • Determines the compatibility of your work style to the company
  • Shows your professional ethics, character, personal integrity, and values
  • Highlights your interactions with previous coworkers and superiors, helping employers see how you fit the workplace
  • Confirms your work history

Qualities of a good reference

In choosing who to use as a reference, there are many things you should consider. After all, it is your job application that’s on the line. Here are the qualities that will make your references relevant and helpful in your application process:

  • Has knowledge about your strengths and expertise

Pick people who have worked closely with you in your previous job. Preferably, choose someone within the team you used to work for. This will ensure that the person actually knows how you do your work and can even expound on your strengths, capabilities, and performance.

  • Speaks well of you

Before including former colleagues, ensure that they are capable of speaking nice things about you. Not all managers will speak positively about you, so you need to find a former boss that regards you highly and has some right words to say. And there’s only one way to find that out—directly ask them about their opinion about your work.

  • Was a coworker recently

The most recent they are, the more they can recall their knowledge of working with you. The tendency of including someone you worked with a couple of years ago is that they might have forgotten about your work ethics and expertise. Worse, they don’t have an updated knowledge of your most recent skills and achievements, which will matter on your next job. That’s why you need to choose someone who you worked with only recently because the memories are still fresh. 

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Who to use as a reference

So who exactly are the people that will make it to the list of your professional references? Here’s a rundown of the people you should consider including in your professional references: 

1. Former employer

They are the best people to give insights about your overall job performance in your previous work.

2. Colleagues

This is someone you worked closely with in your previous job. They are an excellent reference since they can attest to specific tasks and responsibilities you are capable of doing. Having them on your list will also highlight your ability to work with others. 

3. Professors

If you recently graduated, having a teacher on your list is recommended. They provide a strong character reference since they know how you performed in the academe.

4. Advisor or mentor

If you happen to have a mentor or advisor during your college years or even in your career, you can add them to your list. After all, they know how far you’ve come a long in your career and can help attest to that in your next job application.

5. Supervisors from volunteer, internships, and freelance work

Since you already considered former colleagues and employers, this supervisor refers to those you spent time with on other vocations. They could be your superiors from your former internships, volunteer projects, and more. You can even add a client you worked with in your freelance job who regards your work positively. These people present a relevant connection to your professional career. 

How to get them as your professional references

As an ethical practice, you don’t put anyone in your professional reference without their knowledge. Doing so will defeat the purpose of your professional reference list. Instead of having them vouch for you, they might get irritated for having them on your list without their permission.

With that in mind, here are some practices you need to keep in mind to secure your references properly. 

  • Ask your prospects in person first.
  • Give them a refresher about how you know each other.
  • Tailor your question in a way that they can still say “no” to your request.
  • Give them a glimpse of the job description.
  • Send them a copy of your resume if possible.
  • Verify their contact information.
  • After approval, inform them immediately after an interview you just had.

And that’s what you need to know about having professional references that can land you your dream job. When you know the best people to speak about your work ethic, you are inching closer to that dream job of yours. 

Need more tips on building a strong job portfolio that will impress employers? Here’s an online mastery course we recommend you to take, Graduate Job Success: Find Your Perfect Job.

Ready to start listing the right people in your professional references? Click here to get started.

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