Professional References

Individuals who can vouch for someone's qualifications for a job

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What are Professional References?

Professional references are persons who can vouch for your qualifications for a job based on their insight into your work ethic, skills, strengths, and achievements. Typically, a professional reference is a former employer, client, colleague, teacher, supervisor, etc.

References may provide correspondence that serves as a proof of service, length of employment, achievements, and qualifications. When choosing the ideal professional references to attest to your qualifications, go for persons who previously observed you while in a productive capacity either at work, lecture rooms, or in a volunteer setting.

Professional References

Unlike personal and character references who speak to a person’s personality and character, professional references speak of the person’s professional qualities, skills, and capabilities. The references should be listed along with their contact information. Some prospective employers may require the references to provide a physical letter of reference that speaks of the individual’s work-related qualities.

Choosing who to ask for a professional reference

Professional references can be a powerful tool in deciding whether or not you will get the job. A strong recommendation from the right reference can convince the prospective employer that you are the right person for the job, while a negative reference can knock you out from the list of new hires. Here are some of the things to consider when choosing the best references for a job:

1. Ask a manager or former boss

The immediate former boss or manager would be the best person to act as the reference for a new job. They can recommend your work based on your achievements and relationship with other team members. However, it is recommended to list managers or bosses whom you were on good terms with and are willing to be contacted at any time when needed. Some candidates may be hesitant to list their current bosses as references since it may ruin their current position if they are not successful in securing the new job. In that case, go with a previous employer.

2. Ask your colleagues to vouch for you

Apart from former bosses, you can also ask your colleagues and workmates whom you worked with in the same departments or roles to attest to your qualifications for the job. Your colleagues must have seen you perform your routine duties at your job in order to know the kind of skills and capabilities that you possess, and that are required in the new job you are applying for.

3. Know what your references will say about your work qualities

When choosing the professional references to vouch for you, the last thing you want is to get a negative reference and end up missing out on the job opportunity. Before listing the references, ask them to write a brief recommendation letter in advance before forwarding their names and contact information to the prospective employer. Pre-screening the references gives you an overview of what the references are likely to talk about when contacted by the prospective employer.

How to provide professional references to employers

When a prospective employer asks you to provide a list of professional references to vouch for your qualifications, here are some of the steps you can take:

1. Ask permission

Make sure to inform and ask the permission of the person you want to list as a professional reference before giving out their contact information. It helps them know to expect to be contacted in the future, so they can prepare what to say when called upon.

2. Create a list of references

Provide a list of references in the application documents that will be shared with the prospective employer. Under each reference, include the person’s name, job title, company, mail address, email, and phone number. Also, include information on your relationship with the reference.

3. Keep the references updated

Inform the references on the progress of the recruitment process so that they know when they will be contacted. It keeps them prepared to provide a detailed recommendation about your work qualities, style, and work ethic.

Qualities of a good professional reference

When choosing who to list in your list of references, you should make sure that the person meets the following qualities:

1. Knows your strengths and capabilities

Choose a reference you have worked with in the same role to the one you have applied, and they will be able to speak about your specific strengths and capabilities that the new employer is looking for. For example, when applying for a marketing position, the former marketing manager is better placed to attest to the marketing activities you have participated in and the skills you have obtained.

2. Will speak well about you

Some job seekers make the mistake of assuming that every former manager will speak positively about them. Before listing a former boss as a reference, first, know their opinion about you to know if they are the right people to list as professional references.

3. Worked with you recently

Your most recent supervisors, managers, and colleagues have a greater chance of remembering your achievements at work compared to those you worked with a long time ago. Former colleagues whom you have not had contact with for a long time might have forgotten about your achievements and capabilities. It is better not to list them as references if you have networked with new colleagues more recently.

More resources

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to Professional References. To keep advancing your career, the additional resources below will be useful:

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