As your hiring process comes to an end, a recruiter may ask you for professional references. Don’t fret immediately; though you may have never provided them before, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do it.

The only catch here is knowing who to ask for and how to format your professional references, and this is precisely what you’ll learn in our guide. Let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Professional references speak to your experience, work ethic, and ability to perform the duties requested by the position.
  • They may not be required in a resume, but a hiring professional may request them before making the final job offer.
  • Former managers, supervisors, team leads, and coworkers make excellent professional references.
  • Asking for references takes three steps: creating a list of prospective references, getting in touch with them, and following them up.

What Are Professional References?

A professional reference is an individual you used to work with who can vouch for your expertise, suitability for the position, and professional character in general. Recruiters or hiring professionals typically ask for it as the end of the hiring process approaches or before they make the final offer.

While looking for professional references may seem like a hassle, they can be quite beneficial for the candidate. Namely, they can help you stand out from the competition in a ruthless job market and boost a recruiter’s confidence in hiring you.

Individuals that you have asked to be your professional references usually need to pick up a phone call, fill out a form, or write a professional reference letter to a hiring professional. There, they answer questions about your competencies, skills, and qualifications, as well as your work ethic. The positive references they submit will make a recruiter or prospective employer aware that you’re a good fit for the position.

What Are Professional References?

What Is a Personal Reference?

As opposed to professional references who speak to your hard skills and abilities, personal references vouch for your personal characteristics, such as reliability, honesty, friendliness, or dependability.

While hiring managers may discuss your strengths and weaknesses in a working environment using your professional references, they will use personal or character references to learn more about your soft skills. These are usually people who know you outside of work, like peers, friends, or even teachers.

Since employers are interested in your hard and soft skills, they may ask for both professional and personal references. However, in most cases, they will require professional ones.

Do You Need Professional References?

Unless it’s specified otherwise, you don’t have to list professional references on your CV or resume. In fact, it can be more of a nuisance than a benefit since it can take up too much valuable space on your resume. Remember, a resume needn’t be too long—you should keep it to one page.

Alternatively, you can add that ‘references are available upon request’ at the bottom of your resume. Note that if you decide to do so, you should always have them ready.

The reason for this is the fact that a hiring professional might ask you for references at the end of the hiring process. Since gathering them may take a while, it’s recommended that you prepare them in advance.

And if you were wondering whether hiring professionals actually ask for professional references, the answer is yes—80% of them do. With such reference checks, they are seeking to:

  • Enhance the quality of hire
  • Safeguard the reputation of the company
  • Avoid inflicting harm to the employer
  • Comply with company policies

Who to Choose as a Professional Reference

A good choice for a reference is someone who knows both your strengths and weaknesses well and can provide thorough information about you. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t just pick anyone for a reference, as the outcome of the hiring process may depend on them. Hence, never choose someone with whom you have very little or no collaboration.

Former bosses, supervisors, project leaders, managers, or team leaders would make perfect references. You may ask coworkers to be your references as well, but your superiors may know you better. They are not only aware of your core competencies and work ethics; they also know how you take initiative and improve over time.

If you’re just starting out or have very little experience, former teachers and instructors can vouch for your skills and qualifications. Optionally, you can turn to a supervisor you trust or even the employer themselves—if you politely explain what you’re asking from them, there is no reason why they would reject you.

Speaking of the number of references, hiring professionals typically ask for two or three. Yet, it would be wise to prepare four, should any of them be unavailable at the moment. In case such a high number is unattainable for you at the moment, try to come up with at least one professional reference.

Who to Choose as a Professional Reference

Qualities of a Good Professional Reference

A solid professional reference should have the following qualities:

  • Be aware of your abilities—your reference should speak well about your capacities and specific strengths the new employer is seeking.
  • Share positive things—before listing someone as a reference, you should be familiar with their opinion about you. You don’t want anyone to speak negatively of you and your work.
  • Be familiar with your achievements—make sure that you opt for those you have collaborated with as recently as possible, as they are more likely to remember your accomplishments.

How to Ask for a Professional Reference

Follow these tips to ask someone for references as professionally as possible:

#1. Create a List of Potential References

Now that you know who the ideal candidates for references are, make a list of professionals you could possibly ask to vouch for you. Jot down as many of them as you can remember, then think about who could make the best reference.

Don’t worry; you won’t have to reach out to all of them. As you’re contemplating who knows you well, you’ll be narrowing your list to several individuals.

To remind you, even though you’re expected to provide two to three references, you should have at least four, just in case. This further means that you’ll need to contact more people, as not all of them will say yes.

#2. Reach Out to Them

Once you’ve compiled the list, it’s time to contact your prospective references to see if they are willing to vouch for you. Don’t add them without letting them know that you did so.

They might be at such a loss when a hiring professional gets in touch with them to inquire about you that they won’t know what to say. Being aware that they are listed as references will help them prepare better and be ready for a call from the hiring professional.

The most convenient way to contact individuals you’ve chosen as your references is via email, as it will give them time to decide. Calling them may catch them off guard, so they might say no without previously thinking about what you’re asking from them.

#3. Follow Up Strategically

It’s critical to keep your references updated on the progress of your hiring process so that they know when they can expect a call or email from the recruiter or hiring manager. This implies that you may need to reach out to them more than once.

Don’t be hesitant to contact your reference as many times as necessary. Such updates are of huge importance to them as well, as they enable them to stay prepared.

Follow Up Strategically - professional references

How to Provide Professional References to Your Potential Employer

Remember, unless necessary, don’t waste space on your resume on references; instead, have them handy, printed on a separate sheet of paper. Potential employers may require them at any time—during an interview, at the end of the hiring process, or before they decide to make an offer. You don’t want to cause any delays because your references aren’t ready.

Even if the hiring professional doesn’t ask for your professional reference, you can offer it up at the end of the interview and encourage them to give you a call.

The references you list should include:

  • Reference name and relationship
  • Job title
  • Company
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Short description of the relationship

Professional References Example 1

Check out a professional reference example and use it as a template to create your own:

Marsha Peters—Former Team Lead

Head of Content at SEO Brothers

(802) 773-3361

[email protected]

I reported to Marsha when I worked as a content creator at SEO Brothers.

Professional References Example 2

Here’s another professional reference sample you can customize:

Evan Davidson—Former Intern Manager

Head of Marketing at SurfShark

(802) 295-6487

[email protected]

Evan was my supervisor and mentor during my one-year internship at SurfShark.

Final Thoughts

Having professional references that can vouch for your competencies and expertise can significantly increase your chances of being offered a job. Recruiters or employers may not require you to list them on your resume; however, they may ask for them before they come up with the job offer.

Though many people refrain from asking for references for whatever reason, asking for them is not as daunting as you might think. Once you learn their benefits and how to request them, it will be you who will provide professional references after every interview.

Professional References FAQ

#1. Who shouldn’t you use as a professional reference?

People you should never list as your references include:

  • Family members
  • Friends and acquaintances
  • Partner or spouse
  • An employer who dismissed you
  • A coworker you’re not on good terms with
  • A manager or supervisor you do not report to

#2. Can a friend be a professional reference?

You can ask a friend to be your professional reference only if you have worked together. Otherwise, they can only be your personal reference.

#3. Are professional references required for internships?

Yes, a recruiter may ask for professional references for an internship. Providing two or three of them may boost your chances of being hired as an intern.

#4. Who can I use as a professional reference if I don’t have any experience?

If you don’t have any experience, your professional references may be:

  • University or high school teachers
  • Lecturers or instructors
  • Coaches
  • Volunteer leaders
  • Internship mentors