How to Provide Professional References

how to provide professional references

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How to Provide professional references

When applying for job openings, having the right professional references can make a huge difference in your chances of getting hired.

You need to make sure that your references will speak highly of you and your accomplishments. Remember that your references are the only people who can speak about your work ethic to the company you are applying to. One bad reference referring to you as a “bad employee” will hurt your chances of getting a job offer, which is why it is extremely important to stay in good communication with the professional references you choose. 

Are you unsure if you are providing the best references to your potential employers? In this blog, we will discuss how to provide professional references, the importance of good references, and why it is important to stay in contact with your past employers.

Stay in Touch

First things first, you should always have at least three professional references ready to be sent to any potential employer that requests them. Having less than three references will be a red flag to employers because it shows that you either are a bad worker or don’t make a good impression on your colleagues.

Now that you have at least three professional references, ask yourself, “When was the last time I reached out or spoke with this individual?” If you don’t remember the last time your spoke with them, it is time to reach out to them. It is crucial to reach out to your references before you send their information to a potential employer to ensure they are willing to be your reference. 

Even if you know your reference would not mind giving a reference, still reach out to ensure you have the correct contact information for them. It is much easier for everyone if your reference know they are going to be getting a call or email.

If you don’t plan to look for a new job anytime soon, it is still important to maintain a professional relationship with your references. Reach out to them at least once a year just to catch up and stay in their minds. The last thing you want to happen is for your reference to forget who you are or your work ethic when your potential employer reaches out to them.

Also, it is always important to make new connections with coworkers and supervisors at every job you have. Having a strong list of professional references in your contacts list will help you in your job search. If the only references you have are from jobs you held several years ago, your potential employer may be hesitant to hire you. Remember, your work ethic several years ago will be different from what it is today, so ensure that all your references are updated!

Exclude Family Members

Over the past few years, more and more companies are reaching out to references. In fact, today, the majority of employers will check all of your references before they even consider hiring you. Additionally, staffing agencies will actually check all your references before sending your resume to their clients, even if you haven’t interviewed yet. That is why providing professional references is an essential part of the job search process.

To help you provide the best professional references to potential employers, here are the some steps you should take to eliminate potentially bad references.

Let’s start by going over who you should consider to be your reference. We highly suggest not to  provide a family member as a reference. More likely than not, your family will be biased when a potential employer calls them for a reference. Even if you aren’t the best employee, family members will do their best to only highlight your best traits, and avoid discussing your worst ones. 

References who aren’t related to you usually are more honest to potential employers because they have no need to avoid discussing your worst traits, which is why potential employers will usually ask you to remove any family members from your list of references.

There is one exception to this rule. If your only work experience was for your family business, it can be acceptable to add one of your family members to the list of references. This should be one of the only cases in which you supply a family member as a reference.

Remember that the best type of references is from past employers. Whether this is a boss, manager, or fellow employee, it is essential to have references that can attest to your work ethic. If you only had one previous position and can only add one professional reference, then it may be best for you to look for a reference such as a professor, coach, volunteer group leader, or some other individual in your life that can attest to your professionalism.

The most important thing to do is find references that attest that you are the right candidate for the job.

Include at least 3 references

It is essential to always have at least three professional references to present to employers during the job search process. A lack of references can be worrisome for potential employers because it can show that you did not make a great impression on your co-workers or employers. 

While more than three references will not hurt your job search, most employers will typically only contact the first three that you provide. In the off chance they ask for more than three references, make sure you provide at least one more reference to send them.

Having trouble getting 3-4 references from your previous jobs? If you don’t have much experience working, it can be difficult finding 3-4 co-workers or managers that know you really well. In most cases, candidates will add professors, coaches, or volunteer group leaders to get to a total of three references. However, if you don’t have someone outside of work that knows you best, and you need one more reference to get a total of three, it may be time to look for temporary work.

ask for permission before using someone as a reference

You should always ask someone for permission to list them as one of your references. Job seekers will sometimes list references in hopes that their potential employer will not reach out to them, but this is setting yourself up for failure because 87% of employers do reference checks as part of the hiring process.

With almost 90% of employers checking references in 2022, reaching out to references before including them in your job search is no longer optional – it’s necessary. 

Taking a moment to quickly catch up with references from past experiences can make all the difference. Employers will notice the extra effort, and more importantly, your references will remember who you are! Emails are great, but nothing is quite as personal as speaking over the phone or even coordinating an in-person coffee chat. Reminiscing about old times and touching base on new developments in both of your careers makes for a much smoother reference check when a potential employer contacts them, resulting in more positive interactions for everyone involved.

The last thing you want to do is list someone as a reference who forgets who you are when they are called by your potential employer. That is why reaching out to them beforehand to catch up is the best idea.

In addition, if you call a previous co-worker or employer to catch-up and they are short answered with you and not really interested in the conversation, avoid including them in your list of references.

Update your references Yearly

You should always update your references regularly. Most employers will like at least one reference from your most recent position. If your reference list is over a year old, you may want to update it. Update the list by adding a co-worker or manager from your most recent job experience.

Before sending over references to an employer, make sure to review your list of references. Friendships or relationships with past employees or supervisors can change. If you had a fallout with one of your references, make sure to take them off.

Lastly, do not add your references to your resume. Instead, create a different document with your list of references. You should only include your references with your resume if an employer asks you to. 

Now that you know more about the importance of updating references and staying in contact with colleagues and supervisors, are you ready to start working? Check out a full list of our job opportunities at!

For more tips on how to provide professional references, check out our other blog posts!

Professional References
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