Job Search & Interview

9 Ways to Choose Professional References for A Job

Your hiring manager goes to great lengths to ensure that you possess the necessary qualifications for the job, but there is one crucial aspect they cannot assess on their own: your character as an employee. This is where references come into play.

References are individuals who can vouch for your character, and highlight your strengths, accomplishments, talents, and more. They serve as the final piece of the puzzle between you and your dream job, as their positive reference can tip the scales in your favor. Similarly, negative comments from references can potentially close doors of opportunity.

Fortunately, the power to choose our references lies in our own hands. By selecting the right references, and articulating the purpose of reference to them, we increase our chances of landing our dream jobs.

In the following article, we will explore some foolproof methods to ensure that we make the best choices when it comes to selecting our references.

professional references

1. Asking For The Right Connections

Even before you start applying for jobs, it’s crucial that you already have a list of professional references ready to be submitted to potential employers.

The first step of creating a reference list is to contemplate long and hard all the people who can speak highly of your work ethic, your skills, and your work performance. Naturally, this should come from people who have had the chance to work with you in a professional setting. The following connections can be a great reference for you:

Current Supervisor

If you’re currently employed and don’t foresee any issues with informing your supervisor about your job search, reaching out to them for a reference should be your top priority, especially if you have a good rapport with them.

Having your current employer vouch for your professional skills and suitability for the new role can work wonders in impressing your potential employer and significantly boost your chances of landing the job.

An endorsement that comes from a current employer speaks volumes about your capabilities and enhances your candidacy.

Former Boss

If you’re not on good terms with your current employer or informing them about your job search can remove your safety net, then reach out to your former supervisors. They can act as a reference just as well as your current supervisor since they are well aware of your skills and abilities.  

professional references

Colleagues and Coworkers

Most employers ask for at least two references. After supervisors, your current and former colleagues are your next best references. They should be colleagues who have worked with you in the past and can vouch for your teamwork, your organizational skills, your timeliness, and your communication skills.

Professors And Mentors

Fresh graduates or first-time job seekers can reach out to their professors and mentors for professional references. You need to ensure that these educators know you well and are aware of your past projects, your research papers, your career goals, and your passions.

professional references

These individuals have the authority to highlight your strengths, your ability to follow instructions, your interpersonal skills, your presentation skills, and your ability to overcome challenges and roadblocks, etc. It would be even better if their expertise and knowledge directly align with the position you’re applying for.


Freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals can have their clients act as a reference. In some fields, testimonials from clients speak more about your skills than recommendations from supervisors.

2. Choose References Who Truly Know You

When your prospective employer calls your references, they ask some questions about you. When naming your references, it’s your job to make sure that they can positively answer these questions about you:

  • What was your job title?
  • What were your key responsibilities?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Your ability to work in a team?
  • Your ability to be a self-starter?
  • Your punctuality
  • Your interpersonal skills
  • Would you be a good fit for the XYZ role?

Choose people from your connections who can accurately highlight your strengths and explain to your potential employer why your past performance makes you an excellent fit for the current job.

professional references

3. References That Match Your Answers

According to UC Davis, any discrepancies between your responses and your references’ can lead to your elimination from job consideration. These inconsistencies may arise from variations in details such as dates of employment, job titles, salary information, and more. 

While this verification process helps identify potential fraudsters, it can also occur due to genuine mistakes made by both parties.

It is essential to select references who are aligned and possess access to accurate information. By ensuring that your references are on the same page and that they have access to reliable and up-to-date data, you mitigate the risk of inconsistencies that could negatively impact your job prospects.

4. Ask Your References For Complete Details

Now that you have a mental list of all your references, reach out to them. You must maintain open communication, sharing all your details and collecting their details. In the email, ask them to provide their:

  • Complete name
  • Professional designation
  • Relationship with you
  • Company’s name and address
  • Contact details (phone number and work email, etc.)

5. Create a List

Once you have gathered all the necessary details of your references, maintain a well-organized list. It’s essential to be proactive and have your reference list prepared ahead of time. This foresight will prevent any last-minute panic and ensure that you don’t miss out on a great opportunity simply because your references weren’t ready.

professional references

While employers typically request no more than three references, it’s advisable to have a list of at least ten to twenty references with their complete details on hand at all times.

You can structure your list in a way that makes the most sense for your specific field. One approach is to group them based on their relationship with you. For example, you can make a list of five supervisors, five colleagues, and five clients as your references.

Another effective way to organize your references is by categorizing them according to the types of jobs you typically apply for. Suppose you’re applying for a customer service position. In that case, you can group your references based on relevant industries such as retail, food & beverage, travel & hospitality, etc.

This tailored approach will help you pick people from the same industry to vouch for your skills and abilities.

6. Keep the List Updated

Do not let your reference list go stale. Even if you have no desire to leave your current job, keep adding to your references as you make new connections.

Also, reach out to your old references to ensure that their contact details and their job designations are updated. You can also remove people from your reference list as you see fit.

7. Keep Your References in the Loop

Every time you’re about to name someone as your reference, send them an email, asking for their permission and informing them about the job role. Asking permission is necessary, even if you have a good rapport, so they can confirm their availability and willingness to provide a reference. 

professional references

You must also brief them about the job you applied for and the skills it requires so that they can tailor their recommendations to match the context.

It may also be helpful if you remind them of the past projects, your accomplishments, and the accolades you won while working with them. This will help them word their recommendations better and provide a basis for the job you’re applying for. Make sure you keep the email brief and to the point.

Once you have named someone your reference, give them a heads-up so they know to expect a call from your future employer.

8. Don’t Waste Anyone’s Time

It’s important to show respect for the time of your references, as well as your own. Avoid bombarding their inbox, constantly calling them, or sending them fragmented messages with incomplete details about the job requirements. Instead, aim to streamline your communication and make it as efficient as possible.

You can get the job done with just a few emails throughout the entire process.

The first email should be to ask them to be your reference and gather all the necessary details from them. The second email comes into play when you need to seek their permission and give them a heads-up about the upcoming reference request, allowing them to mentally prepare.

Additionally, it serves as a confirmation that their contact information and job title are still accurate, ensuring that your references are up to date.

9. Always Thank Your References 

Once you have gotten the job, make sure to share the good news with your references and show your gratitude. After all, they must have said all the right things for your new employer to have hired you!

Final Word

In summary, selecting the right professional references is an essential step in securing your dream job. By following the nine strategies outlined in this article, you can make informed decisions and increase your chances of success.

Remember that references play a pivotal role in vouching for your character and abilities, and their recommendations can be the deciding factor for employers.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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