Creating a list of job references in 2024

Last updated: April 23, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
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Creating a list of job references in 2024
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If you're searching for a new job, you'll be competing against other job seekers. To stand out, you need a solid resume and a list of references.

Choosing the right people for your professional references is important. They'll be vouching for your work ethic and telling the hiring manager why they should employ you.

The question is, how do you know who to ask? We're here to help.

This article will cover what employment references are, who to have as a professional reference, and the types of professional references to help you create an excellent reference page for your job applications.

What is a reference for a job application?

A professional job reference is a person who can testify to your qualifications for a position. A reference can provide insight into your skills and abilities.

References can vary depending on the job type. Some positions require written reference letters with the opportunity to follow up via phone. For other jobs, contact numbers for your references will be enough.

Most prospective employers will ask for at least three references when considering you for a position. So, it's important to choose your references carefully.

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We'll go into additional detail later in this post, but the best references are people you've recently worked with, such as colleagues or managers.

In many cases, you won't be asked to provide a reference until you've reached the interview stage. You may even be offered a provisional offer of employment pending a reference check.

Why is a professional reference important?

The hiring manager doesn't know you, and they only have limited information to work with.

There are currently around 5.5 million job seekers in the US, making finding the right candidate a competitive process. It also takes around 5.5 months to land a new job.

A professional reference could set you apart

Employers are looking for reassurance that they're making the right decision. They also want to know if the skills and experience listed on your resume are accurate.

If there are specific skills needed for a job, your professional reference can confirm your ability. For example, you may need cash-handling skills or typing skills.

A professional reference can verify your story.

Why do employers ask for professional references?

Your professional reference will give recruiters insight into how you work in a team, perform under pressure, and if you are reliable.

The right reference will give you credibility and act as a review of your work performance.

Types of professional references

Before you start building your list of people, you need to understand the various types of professional references and how they differ from one another. With the proper knowledge, you can create a strong reference page that supports your job application.

Employer reference

A former employer is one of the most common types of reference a hiring manager will request. This person can provide a good overview of your skills and accomplishments in the workplace. An employer reference should be able to discuss your job performance in detail and provide examples of how you excelled.

You can choose from direct supervisors, managers, and colleagues based on what kind of information you want to share. Select someone who can positively review your work and is familiar with any awards or recognition you have earned.

Academic reference

An academic reference is someone who can attest to your academic achievements. This can be a former professor, advisor, or mentor, as long as they know your educational background and grades well.

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Selecting an academic reference is important if your experience in the job market is limited. This reference type will help demonstrate that you can learn quickly and apply yourself to new tasks.

Professional reference

A professional reference is an individual who can vouch for your work ethic and personality in a professional setting. This could be a former business partner, client, or volunteer who has worked with you.

A professional reference can also provide insight into how well you communicate and collaborate with others, especially in a remote setting. When selecting a professional reference, you should look for someone who can speak to your ability to take on new projects and handle complex tasks.

Personal character reference

A personal character reference is someone who can comment on your personality and overall character traits. This could be a teacher, coach, or family friend. They should be able to speak about your strengths and how you handle yourself in difficult situations.

While this type of reference can be beneficial, it is also important to note that it will not hold as much weight as a professional or employer reference. Be sure to verify which type of reference is requested before submitting your list.

Industry contact reference

An industry contact reference can provide a unique perspective on your qualifications and experience. This could be someone you have done business with or a professional connection with a good understanding of the industry.

This type of reference will give the hiring manager insight into how well you understand the industry and what value you could bring to the organization. They should be able to speak to the knowledge you have gained from any previous positions and what sets you apart from other candidates.

Tips for choosing your professional references

When compiling your list of professional references, keep the following five tips in mind.

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1. Determine the type of role you want

The first question you should consider is, "what type of role are you looking for?"

Your reference doesn't always have to match the job, but they should be able to match the required skill sets.

For example, you may be scouring for a position in retail, and your reference could comment on your teamwork, customer service, integrity, and cash-handling skills.

Or, you may be looking for a construction job. Your reference could discuss your manual dexterity, motivation, and time management.

You may have a list of potential references that you can mix and match, depending on the position you are applying for.

2. Consider individuals you may know at the organization

Don't be afraid to use your connections. If you know people who work at the company, ask them whether they'll vouch for you.

People are usually happy to help a friend, but they'll need to feel confident they can recommend you. They'll put their reputation on the line, so ensure you have a good relationship.

3. Identify connections between your network and a company employee

If there is a company you have your eye on, ask your network whether they know anyone who works there. Networking can be beneficial. Getting a job often equates to “who you know.”

It's never too late to start building your professional network. You can start by browsing the Jobcase community of people or check LinkedIn for connections who work for the company you'd like to get hired at.

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Having a reference that the hiring manager knows and trusts can help boost your chances of landing the gig.

4. Consider the length of your relationship with the individual

Recommending a candidate is a big responsibility. You should consider how long you've known the person you want to put forth as a reference and your relationship type.

For example, if you worked with an individual for one week back in 1999, they won't have much to say. They might not even remember you.

But if you've worked closely with a co-worker and supported each other in the workplace, they could be a good choice for a professional reference.

Over time, you gain experience. This means people you've worked with recently will usually have an up-to-date understanding of your skills compared to older connections.

5. Consider what they might say about you

Most recruiters will do a background check before making a hiring decision, and this process includes calling references.

A professional reference may look impressive on your resume, but what will they say about you? The goal is to have positive feedback, but you shouldn't assume they'll give you high praise.

Before you apply for your next job, let your reference know they might receive a phone call. You should ask them how they'd feel about recommending you.

How to ask for a professional reference

You should always ask someone before using them as a professional reference. The way to do it can depend on the type of relationship you have.

Let's take a look.

Phone

If you have a strong relationship with the person and think they're likely to say yes, you can ask them for a professional reference over the phone. Be prepared to leave a voicemail.

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For example, it could be a former colleague you still check in with. If they're busy professionals, trying to get in touch via phone may not be the best option.

In-person

Sometimes, you can ask in person. It could be someone you still work with or a contact you meet up with regularly.

Make sure you choose the right time. For example, it should be in a quiet space without distractions. You'll want to mention the opportunity and explain why you think you'd be a good fit.

Email

Alternatively, you can ask someone to be your reference via their email address. Putting your request in writing gives the person time to respond when it suits them.

Email is ideal for those people in senior roles who you don't speak to outside the office. If you're unsure how to ask someone to be your reference, email is the safest option.

Sample email for a professional reference

Want to send an email but don't know what to say? Try this:

Dear (Mr. / Ms.) (Last Name),

I'm seeking a new opportunity as a (Job Title), and I was wondering if you'd provide me with a reference.

As someone who spent four years working with you at (Company Name), I believe you'd understand my skills and experience well.

Please find attached my current resume. Please let me know if you have any other questions or would be happy to be contacted as a referee.

Thank you for your time,

Kind regards

(Your First / Last Name / Phone Number)

You can send a follow-up email if you don't receive a response within a few days.

Sample thank you email for a professional reference

If someone gives you a positive reference, you should thank them. A quick email or handwritten letter will show your appreciation.

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You never know; you may need another reference in the future.

Here's a sample thank-you email:

Dear (Mr. / Ms.) (Last Name),

Thank you for taking the time to give me a reference for the (Job Title) position at (Company Name).

I am pleased to say the hiring manager recently offered me the job. I know your positive reference helped me secure this position.

Thank you again for sharing my skills and your experiences of working with me.

Kind regards

(Your First / Last Name / Phone Number)

Who should you use as a professional reference?

Once you're ready to start reaching out to people for references, you should think carefully about who to choose. Professional references could make or break your job application and greatly influence the potential employer.

Choosing a professional reference can be challenging. Current or former employers, work colleagues, people from other jobs, and school professors are all viable options. If possible, try to get more than one reference so that potential employers can gain an in-depth understanding of your skills, abilities, and work ethic.

Current employer or manager

If you have a solid relationship with your current employer or manager, they're an ideal option for a professional reference. They will be aware of your work experience and can speak positively about your job performance.

However, it's crucial that you check the company policy before asking your current employer or manager. Some organizations have regulations against employees from providing references for former staff. Be sure to ask permission before including them on your reference list.

Work colleagues who understand your previous role

Getting a reference from a colleague who understands your previous role is beneficial. They can provide deeper insight into the tasks you were responsible for and how well you performed them. These professionals can offer a distinctive outlook and can shed light on your interpersonal skills.

Academic professionals who know your capabilities

Having an academic reference, such as a professor or former mentor, can demonstrate your commitment to learning and education. They can provide an objective opinion on your knowledge base and the skills you developed in the classroom.

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While academic references are often used for internships and school or training programs, they can also support a traditional job application.

Professors, teachers, and academic advisors are considered reputable references. They may have taught you or worked side-by-side on a research project.

Remember, academic references can be in writing and should be from someone that can verify your work ethic. They should still include contact information if the potential employer has follow-up questions.

Who can act as a character reference?

Character references, sometimes called personal references, are slightly different from professional references. Character references are often used to vouch for an individual's character rather than professional experience.

Religious leader

If you attend a local church, temple, mosque, or other religious institution, you can ask a leader there for a character reference. Religious leaders are in an excellent position to speak about character, values, and morals, as they are familiar with your behavior in the community.

Career coach or mentor

If you've worked with a career coach, mentor, or former professor, they can be wonderful character references. They know you well and understand your goals and aspirations. They have seen the progress you've made, and they can speak about it in a credible manner.

Volunteer supervisor or leader

If you have volunteered with an organization, you can ask the volunteer supervisor or leader for a character reference. They will have seen your contributions over time and can speak to the meaningful impact you had on the organization.

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Selecting someone who knows you well and can speak to your character and personal qualities is important when choosing a character reference. Your character reference can provide insights not reflected in your professional resume and give potential employers a fuller picture of you as an individual.

Who shouldn't be a professional reference?

Even though the reference list comes at the end of a resume, that doesn't mean it isn't important. You should take care to choose the right people, as their recommendation could be the difference between you and another candidate.

Look for references you've worked with recently and avoid anyone with something negative to say.

A professional reference should be someone you've worked with — not a friend, neighbor, or family member.

Update your job references periodically

It's important to keep your references updated and to select ones relevant to the job you're applying for. Hiring managers rely on professional references to verify your skills and match your experience to the job.

Who do you ask? Managers, work colleagues, and academic professionals are all good choices. Depending on your relationship, you can ask them via phone, in person, or email.

Don't forget to contact your references periodically to let them know that you're still using them as a reference and to update them on your latest career accomplishments.

Check out the Jobcase job board to find your next opportunity or consult our extensive Getting Hired resource for more actionable tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

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Tammy Compton
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What I'd your just ready to return to work but it's been a long while & your old references are good. Besides the fact how do we explain these gaps in employment.??

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