Who Should I Use as a Reference?

A professional reference is a recommendation from someone who can attest to your qualifications for a job. You want to choose someone who has a pretty solid knowledge of you as a worker, not necessarily as a friend or a brother or a parent. Those people don’t hurt, but keep in mind that you want someone who can speak honestly about your skills, credentials, and work ethic.

Here’s how you can generate a list of references.

1) The ideal reference

Think about using a former employer, a colleague, a client, a vendor, or a supervisor. If you just graduated and you’re relatively new to the workforce, think about using a professor, a coach, or an advisor. Someone who taught you in a class that was related to your major or better, related to the job you’re applying for, is even better. But don’t choose someone who gave you a less than stellar grade. Also, consider using someone who knows you well from church, a non-profit, or other volunteer work. Ideally, you want to use at least three people, your list might vary slightly depending on the job you’re applying for.

2) The “don’t use” list

Never use someone who fired you because they probably don’t have a lot of good things to say about you. Don’t use family members, friends, or roommates—even if you worked with them—because chances are they can’t be truly objective and hiring managers will sniff that out. And definitely, don’t use someone who you didn’t check with first. You should always make sure it’s okay to use everyone on your list and if you haven’t cleared it with someone, don’t risk putting their name down. You never know what someone might say, especially if they’re caught off guard.

3) Contact your references

It’s important to check with your references to make sure it’s okay to use them. First, it lets them know they should expect a phone call or email and gives them a chance to think about what they’re going to say. Second, you don’t want to put down the name of someone who’s unwilling to speak on your behalf. So, when you call, tell them about the position you’re applying for, why you’re excited about it, why you think you’d be good at it, and ask for their permission to list their name. Remind them how qualified or skilled you are, so you’re sure they have some positive talking points. Let them know major developments as your job search continues so they’re even better informed.

When you go for your interview, make sure you bring a typed copy of your list with at least three professional references on it in case you’re asked to provide them. Include the person’s name, title, company, address, phone number, and email address.

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