April 26, 2022    |    By

There are numerous factors that hiring managers consider when making a job offer. While most focus on the candidate’s qualifications and experience, hiring managers will also give weight to the reference list. A reference is a person who can attest to your character or professional competence.

Most employers will contact at least one of your references before making a job offer, so it’s vital to choose your references carefully.

Why You Need A Reference

A reference provides a third-party endorsement of your skills and qualifications. While your resume and cover letter give an overview of your experience and skills, a reference can attest to your work ethic, character, and other qualities that are difficult to quantify.

The primary two reasons why hiring managers contact a reference is to:

  • Verify the contents of your resume: Hiring managers want to make sure that everything you stated in your resume is true.For example, they may want to double-check what your responsibilities were at your previous job and whether or not the skills you listed are accurate.
  • Vouch for competency and character: Besides making sure that you didn’t lie (or stretch the truth) on your resume, they’ll also want to see what kind of coworker and employee you are. References can provide insight into whether you’re a team player, if you’re a hard worker, and more.

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There are different types of references you can use, but not all of them are equal. The best reference you can provide is someone who can speak to both your professional competence and character.

The following are some examples of the best references you can use:

Work References

A work reference is someone you’ve worked with in the past who can attest to your job performance. These references have first-hand experience working with you in a professional environment. A work reference may include:

  • Managers: Your direct supervisor or manager is usually the best reference you can provide. They can speak to your day-to-day responsibilities, how you interact with coworkers, your work ethic, and more.
  • Your Current Employer: Even if you’re looking for a new job, your current boss may be willing to provide a reference if you have a good relationship with them and they are aware that you’re seeking other opportunities. They can speak to your job performance, as well as any skills or experience you have that would transfer well to the new role.
  • Co-workers: If you don’t have a close relationship with your manager or boss, another co-worker can provide a reference. Choose someone who has seen you work and can attest to your job skills.
  • Clients: If you’ve worked with clients in the past (for example, if you are a freelancer), they can also be a reference. They can speak to your ability to complete work to their satisfaction as well as your ability to communicate in a respectful and clear way.

There are other options as well, even if you’re applying for your first job. For instance, if you volunteered at a charitable organization, you could request a reference from the organizer or someone you worked with.

Academic References

If you’re fresh out of college, then you may not have a lot of professional relationships yet. Fortunately, academic references can be just as impactful as work references. The following are some of the academic references you could potentially utilize:

  • Professors: Professors can attest to your knowledge, time management, and ability to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to real-world scenarios. If you had a close relationship with a professor, they could be an ideal reference.
  • Teachers: If you’re applying for a job that doesn’t require a college degree, then a reference from a teacher can be just as impactful. They can speak to your problem-solving abilities, communication skills, and motivation to learn.
  • Faculty Advisors: If you were involved in extracurricular activities, your faculty advisor can describe your leadership abilities and how well you work with others.
  • Counselors: If you had a close relationship with your high school or college counselor, they can be a great reference. They can speak to your character as well as your ability to handle different types of situations.

Character References

A character reference is someone who can attest to your personal character, rather than your professional skills. While work references are usually the most impactful, a character reference can be helpful in some situations.

If you’re applying for a job that relies heavily on teamwork, a character reference can attest to your ability to work well with others. Almost anyone from your work or academic environment can provide a character reference.

LinkedIn Recommendations

LinkedIn recommendations are similar to reference letters, in that they’re written by people who know you and can attest to your skills. The main difference is that LinkedIn recommendations are public, while reference letters are usually private.

LinkedIn recommendations can be a great way to advertise your skills to potential employers. If you have a LinkedIn profile, make sure to ask for recommendations from people who can attest to your work ethic and abilities. It’s not uncommon for hiring managers to perform a basic online background check.

Who Should Not Be On Your Reference List

There are a lot of different people that you can turn to for a reference. However, there are a few people who shouldn’t be your reference, for one reason or another. Choosing the wrong reference could be detrimental to your chances of getting the job.

With that in mind, the following are examples of people you shouldn’t use as references:

Friends And Family

Generally speaking, a family member or friend won’t be a good choice for a reference, unless they worked or volunteered with you directly. Friends and family can be biased, so hiring managers can’t necessarily rely on them to tell the truth about you.

Moreover, they are unlikely to be able to give a hiring manager insight into your work ethic and skills.

Anyone Who Has Fired You

It probably goes without saying, but you shouldn’t use anyone who was forced to fire you. The fact that they fired you will surely come up, and you don’t want the hiring manager to have any doubts about your ability to do the job.

Anyone Who Will Not Speak Highly Of You

Even if you did a great job, don’t use a manager or a coworker as a reference if your working relationship was not good. If you do, you’re taking a risk that they will speak poorly of you, even if you did your job well and treated everyone with respect.

Anyone Who Isn’t Expecting A Call

Don’t just list people as references without speaking to them first. The last thing you want is for someone to receive a call about you that they didn’t expect. If your reference is not prepared, they may struggle to answer any questions, which will reflect poorly on you.

Anyone You Don’t Know Personally

If you don’t have a relationship with the person you’re listing as a reference, don’t list them. For example, if you’re listing a manager you worked for more than a decade ago who barely remembers you, it’s not going to be a strong reference.

If the hiring manager gets into contact with them and they say as much, the hiring manager will either think you lied about the job or that the work you did was average at best.

The Selection Process For References

When it comes to putting together references, remember that you don’t have to use the same three references for every job you apply for. In fact, doing so is generally not a good idea. You should tailor your references to each job.

For example, if you’re applying for a leadership position, you’ll want a reference that can attest to your leadership skills. A client that you worked for as a freelancer won’t be able to do this.
Keeping that in mind, the following are a few tips on how to find the references you need:

  1. Search Your Network Of Connection:If you’re job searching, chances are you have at least a few connections in your network that can act as a reference for you. Social media sites like LinkedIn make it easy to find and connect with people you know.
  2. Consider Your Relationship: When you’re looking at your list of potential reference contacts, consider your relationship with each person. If you have a good relationship with them, they’re more likely to be able and willing to act as a reference for you.
  3. Consider What They Might Say About You: Once you’ve narrowed down your list, take some time to consider what each person might say about you. If they would be able to speak highly of your work ethic and skills, they make for a good reference.

The Best Way To Ask Someone For A Reference

Once you’ve created a list of people you think will provide good references, you’ll want to contact them so that you can ask them to be a reference. After all, you won’t want to add names and contact information to your resume without permission.

First of all, make sure you contact potential references well ahead of time. You need to give them some time to consider whether they want to provide a reference (or to determine if they even have the time to do so). Don’t call someone the day before you plan on submitting a resume to ask for a written reference.

A potential reference may not always have the time to help you. It’s important to always be polite and thank them, even if they turn you down. This way, the relationship is protected and you can always try again in the future if you need.

If a person agrees to provide a reference, offer details about what the hiring manager may ask. If you can, also let them know when they can expect to hear from a hiring manager. Finally, if they did provide a reference, follow up with them to offer your thanks. Be sure to inform them if you got the job as well.

Choose Your References Wisely

When it comes to putting together references for a job, it’s critical to choose wisely. After all, your references can make or break your chances of getting a job. As such, make sure you choose references that can best vouch for the skills and attributes required for the job you’re applying for. Doing so will help to improve your odds of securing a job offer.

Learn how to use your references wisely when looking for a job.

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This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.