Job Search Tips Who Makes a Good Reference

The Reference Check Process

While most job seekers spend a great deal of time refining their resume and cover letter, the task of compiling references is often seen as an afterthought. However, it can create a crunch time when references are requested and all you have is a few names on a post-it note! Have you ever listed a former supervisor as a reference and not informed them until after you gave out their contact information? Did you have a hard time deciding whom to put as a reference when you were straight out of college and had little employment experience? We understand that the reference aspect of the job search can feel about as clear as mud, so this week we have compiled our best tips for who to ask and how!

Who Should You Consider as a Reference for you?references pinned on bulletin board

In a perfect world, you would provide the name of a high-ranking supervisor who has solid knowledge of your overall skill set, accomplishments and character, right? But what if your current supervisor does not know you are exploring other opportunities? What if this is your first job? Consider these tips when deciding whom to select as a professional reference:

  • Professors, college counselors and teachers make excellent references as they can often speak to your work quality, demonstrated skill set and level of enthusiasm.
  • Well-established contacts from volunteer organizations and industry associations often serve as informative references, especially with regards to your ability to collaborate, communicate and contribute to a unified objective.
  • Past and present colleagues are often happy to serve as professional references and appreciate the reciprocity of you doing the same for them!
  • Former supervisors are often one of the most sought-after references as employers appreciate their perspective on your performance, growth and scope of responsibilities over time.
  • Long-term mentors and coaches are also viewed as distinctive sources of your character and strengths, making them a balanced addition to a reference list.

The most critical aspect of any reference selection is the individual’s ability to not only describe your employability and work-related qualities, but their capacity to provide specific examples of them. References are very likely to be asked for a sampling of a time that you overcame a challenge, contributed to a successful outcome or handled a specific type of situation. Avoid listing a reference simply because they have a prestigious title or well-known name and focus on quality and relevancy.

How to Prioritize Your References

As you prioritize your contacts and review the possibilities, the next step is to submit ‘the ask’. Start by considering the individuals who can speak to your most successful roles first. Then work your way down the list!

  • While it seems more personal to call and ask a contact to serve as a professional reference, the industry recommendation is to make the ask in writing first. It provides a more comfortable setting if the potential reference wishes to decline, as opposed to saying yes on the phone and then supplying a less than enthusiastic review.
  • Once you have submitted the reference request and he/she has agreed, provide a basic outline of the scope of the responsibilities of the position you are applying for.
  • Keep your references apprised of your progress along the way and prepare them to address specific concerns that may have arisen during the interview process should they be asked.
  • Whether you get the job or not and whether the reference was contacted or not, always show your gratitude and thank your references for their time, communication and willingness to support you!

Selecting references is not only an important part of the job search process, but also an insightful reflection of your career growth and professional relationship development. Learn more about other aspects about the background check process in our blog post. No matter where you are headed, take a moment of pride in where you are at and who has been with you along the way.


Resources Used

Who Makes for a Good Job Reference?:

The 8 Best People to Choose as Job References:

Learn About Professional References: