Why, Who, and How to Score A Professional Reference

By Connor Barry on July 2, 2021

Key Points:

  • Why are professional references important
  • Identifying the right professional reference
  • How to ask for a reference

Typically, you’re towards the end of the interview process when you’re requested to provide professional references. Congratulations, you’ve made it towards the end of the interview process! Requests for professional references can scare many, but this article will show you why references are important, who you should ask and how you should ask those individuals.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash 

What is a professional reference, and why is it important?

A professional reference is an individual that can confirm your qualifications for a job based on their experience with working with you and their knowledge of your work ethic or skillsets. A reference can be the determining factor as to whether you’re still a candidate. If a reference is less than enthused about working with you, the interview process could easily be over for you. However, finding the proper reference candidate can share their positive working experiences with you, and how they know you’ll excel in the job.

Who should I ask to be a professional reference?

While you might help your neighbor out, they aren’t the best reference source. Any person you ask should be someone you have a professional relationship with the person to speak to your work ethic and skillset.

This person could be a prior manager or supervisor, a current or former coworker, or a current manager or supervisor. If your current manager or supervisor doesn’t know you’re searching for a new job, do not list them as a reference, and be sure to explain to the hiring manager that your current manager or supervisor isn’t aware of your job search.

When you provide the professional references to the hiring manager, be sure to include the reference’s first and last name, their phone number and email address for contact, as well as their relationship to you.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash 

How should I ask for a professional reference?

Now that you’ve identified who you should ask, you may be wondering what’s the best approach to ask for a reference. Asking for a reference is personal, and therefore the way you ask should be as well.

When reaching out to someone to be your professional reference, there are a few things that you should do. First and foremost, make sure that you still have contact with the person. While seeing the potential reference in person may not be an option, it’s best to try to take the person to coffee or catch up before asking for a reference. If not, send a detailed email about the reference and state that you would also like to catch up. Then you should do the following three things.

  1. State what job you are applying for and share how you feel like you’re the best fit based on a few skill sets the job description lists. By doing so, you’re allowing the reference to tie back their experiences with you to those skill sets and therefore highlight them to your potential new employer.
  2. When sending the reference the details about the job you’re applying for, it’s best to share your current resume with them to have an easier time recalling your work history and how long you worked together.
  3. If the person accepts to be a reference, ask if they would be able to provide a general reference letter as well so that you can use it for future use.

You’ve got all of the information you need to get an excellent professional reference. Finally, you should thank the individuals that agreed to be your reference. They have taken time out of their day to support your career change, so a thank you email, or a card will show your gratitude. For more tips on your job search, learn more here.


Header image by DocuSign on Unsplash 

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