Updated: Feb 17
References play an important role in your career journey. Help them help you by keeping your references updated with your application and interview process. The purpose of a professional reference is to vouch for your professional skills and experience as they pertain to the job for which you are applying. Employers and hiring staff will contact your references and ask questions that pertain to your past work experience as well as to confirm your dates of employment. (Might surprise you but some people lie about their work experience or time spent working at a company and a reference is a way for a prospective employer to fact check that information). Be honest. Always.
So, who should you contact to enlist as a professional reference? The choice is yours but you should refrain from using close friends or relatives. If you truly have no other options, then utilize the resources you do have. That said, do your best to utilize references from professional areas of your life in order to have the strongest impact! Here are some common options when choosing your references:
Assuming you left your last job in good standing, having your previous employer as a reference can be very helpful since they have both a recent and direct understanding of the quality of work you can provide. Have you worked as a nanny or tutor? Ask those parents to be a reference for you. Even if you worked for someone a few years ago, they can still be a good reference as a former employer.
If using a former employer is not a good option for you, using a former colleague can work well. As with an employer, a colleague should have direct understanding of your work ethic and quality of work provided.
Teacher, Professor, Coach
Don't underestimate the value of having teachers, professors or coaches as references, especially when first starting out in your career. People serving in these roles should have direct experience with you and can speak to your character, work ethic and specific projects or events where you showed true skill or dedication. These examples of references work very well if you do not have much work experience.
Other - Customer or Vendor
Though less common, using a customer or vendor for a reference can be a good option too. In this case, make sure that the reference can speak directly to your work experience, character, and/skillset.
Once you've decided who would be good references for you, contact each one and ASK permission to provide them as a reference. No one likes surprises and your references can't be completely effective in promoting your good work if you haven't asked them to do so in the first place. This may seem like common sense but many people actually list references without first asking permission. CONTACT YOUR REFERENCES FIRST AND ASK PERMISSION! This step is very important.
After you've received permission from your references, make note of the contact information for each reference - name, mailing address, email, and phone number. You will need this contact information handy if you need to provide it to your prospective employer during the application process. Make sure to keep your references up to date on your application process and start by providing each one with your latest resume and copy of the job posting or job requirements. By doing so, you are giving them the best information to use to highlight you, your skills and experience, and in the best way possible!
When you are first starting out in your career, you should keep your resume to no more than one page. As a result, you will have limited space with which to list all of your amazing experience and professionals skills. Rather than take up space unnecessarily on your resume, skip listing "References available upon request" or other similar statements. Use that space to instead list more valuable information about your experience. Your prospective employer will let you know if/when they would like to contact your references and you can provide their contact information at that time.
* On a sheet of paper, brainstorm up to 15 people you feel would be great references for you.
* Call each reference you listed and ask their permission to list them as a reference.
* On a new sheet of paper, list your top 5 references and their contact information to use for your job application process.
* Email each of your references your latest resume and job application or posting description.
* Continue to contact your references and update them throughout your job application process.
Check out the other blog posts for even more tips and advice and connect with us on social media at @ThatPurpleBook.