What are professional references?

by Susan Mullin

Professional references may seem like only a small part of the hiring process, but they make a big difference. Are your references hurting you?

man on phone calling professional references

Most people think they know what professional references are. However, as a recruiting company, we frequently check employee references and regularly see that’s not always the case. Many job seekers struggle to make the most of their references.  

This may seem like a small part of the hiring process, but around 87% of employers conduct reference checks. That is to say, if you are applying for a new job, you can almost guarantee the company is going to ask for references. 

Here are 5 crucial steps to ensure your references are helping you, and not holding you back. 

1. Plan ahead 

Applications won’t always ask you to list professional references. That doesn’t mean hiring managers won’t ask for them later on in the process. 

Waiting until the last minute to pull your list of professional references together is a mistake. Once asked, you usually only have a limited about of time to send your references over. If you gather your list in advance, though, you’ll be ready at a moment’s notice. 

Ultimately, gathering your references before you apply to new jobs only works in your favor. It just takes a few minutes to contact those you want to list. It provides insight on what kinds of things references might say about you. And the hiring manager won’t have to wait for you to prepare! It will only make you look better. 

2. Ask the right professional references 

Who you choose matters. It is important that you list the right kind of contact as a reference. Friends and colleagues can speak to your work style and accomplishments, but most employers want feedback from past supervisors. Are you conducting a secret job search? Ask an indirect supervisor or client to speak about your achievements and working relationship instead. 

Next, compile a list of potential references. Think back on the feedback you have received from past colleagues and managers. Was it constructive and positive or fairly neutral? What will they say about your work ethic and level of expertise?   

If you aren’t 100% sure that someone is enthusiastic about you and your work, pick someone else. Reluctance and hesitation may show that a particular reference has less than stellar things to say about you. On the other hand, if someone is excited to be a reference, they probably have great things to say! You want to list your biggest supporters as professional references.  

3. Give your professional references a heads-up

Don’t forget to let your references know that someone may be reaching out to them about you. This way, they won’t miss an important email or call. They can organize their thoughts ahead of time. It speeds up the hiring process! Hiring managers won’t have to wait around for a busy professional to respond.

Furthermore, this helps your references share better feedback. Time gives the person an opportunity to prepare what they are going to say. You can take this interaction to fill in the reference on what is significant. 

4. Double-check your professional references’ contact information 

It can be easy to forget to update references, especially if it’s been a while since your last job search. Be sure your references’ contact information is up-to-date. Checking in with references beforehand (as listed above) also gives you the opportunity to confirm their contact details. They can tell you their preferred methods and consent, before giving their information. 

To clarify, this includes a current phone number and email address. Outdated reference information not only makes reference checks difficult (if not impossible), but it makes you look disorganized. 

5. Share relationship details 

When sharing your list of professional references with a potential employer, don’t skip over relationship details. Where did you work together? For how long? What was their relationship with you? What is their title? All of this is extremely helpful to the hiring manager. It gives the employer more context. Not only that, but it enables them to tailor their questions ahead of time. Subsequently, it makes you look more credible.

So what?

In short, don’t forget to spend serious time on your professional references. They can be just as important as proofing your resume and preparing for interviews. The right references give you a leg up on your competition and will help you get that job!

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Posted in , Job Search Tips