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A Professional Reference How-To

Integrity Staffing & Solutions 

When applying for a new position many applications have a section for an applicant to provide professional references.  What many applicants may not realize is that there is a correct way to provide these references to provide what the employer is really looking for.

When a potential employer is seeking a professional reference from an applicant they are looking for someone who can speak to the work ethic, skills, and qualities of an individual; this most suitably is someone who has worked with the applicant on the job.  The best professional reference would be someone who held a supervisory role and worked closely with the applicant.  Most reference questions will revolve around abilities/skills or situations and will ask for examples.

A Common Mistake to Avoid

A common mistake applicants make is to list someone who would actually be categorized as a personal reference.  Unfortunately, a purely personal reference has not seen you in the workplace and would be unlikely to adequately answer the questions asked.  If an application asks for references but does not specify the type, err on the side of caution and list professional references.

Be Prepared

The best way to be prepared is to organize your reference list ahead of time.  Come up with a list of past supervisors and coworkers who would be able to speak to your qualities.  Contact those individuals and ask for permission to use them as a professional reference; let them know that you are currently in a job search.  Some individuals may decline and others would be more than happy to assist you.  This process does take some leg work on your part as you will need to be able to provide direct contact information for each reference.  Either list the individual’s direct work number or cell phone number.  Make it as smooth and easy as possible for the reference checker to get a hold of your reference.

Who is a Good Reference?

Some applicants may not have an extensive work history or pool of past co-workers to draw from.  In these instances, they should think of people they may have worked with in an unpaid capacity.  This could be the president of a club they participate in, someone they served on a committee with, or a volunteer supervisor.  Work in extracurricular activities could very well have produced viable professional references.

In Summary

Here are some Do and Do Not tips for providing professional references:

  • DO NOT list someone who is a personal reference: not a family member, best friend, or lifelong neighbor.  These people have not seen you in action in the work place.
  • DO NOT list fewer than the requested amount of Professional References.  A good number to have is 5.  Prepare ahead of time by coming up with a list of past supervisors and co-workers.  Contact them first so you are sure that you can depend on them to be your references.
  • DO NOT leave the reference section blank.  If you have a limited work history, be resourceful and brainstorm for other sources.  You may have some great professional references from unpaid work.
  • DO NOT list a business’s general number as the contact number for the reference.  The person checking reference does not want to sit on hold for 10 minutes while the individual is being sought out.
  • DO prepare your professional references’ information ahead of time: years known, worked with at which company, relationship, contact information, etc.
  • DO request permission to list them as a professional reference.  If someone does not know you are listing them in this way, they may not return calls; it is also possible it would annoy or anger them to receive these calls.
  • DO make sure the contact information is up to date.
  • DO respond promptly should the reference checker contact you with questions or request additional references.
  • DO call to remind references that they will be contacted by your prospective employer when you have made it to the reference checking stage.  Someone who is prepared will make a much better reference and be faster to respond.
  • DO NOT be the applicant who trips up in the reference checking phase of the interview process.

Reference checking can have a big impact on how you are viewed as a candidates.  Stand out for being prepared by providing complete information and true professional references.