You’ve put in the hard work to earn valuable education and experience to prepare for career advancement, and now you’re ready to apply for the roles you’ve had your eye on. While it’s your resume that likely puts you in the running for a new job, it’s often your professional references that can help land you an interview, so knowing who to choose and why will certainly increase your odds.
What is a Professional Reference?
The key giveaway for this type of reference is the word “professional.” It refers to someone who is familiar with your professional skills and abilities, things you have accomplished, as well as your strengths, work ethic, teamwork, and overall professionalism in a work, volunteer, or educational setting. These references give teeth to the qualifications you list on your resume by providing specific examples and firsthand knowledge of what you bring to the table and what a future employer might expect if they hire you. These references can also verify your past or current employment, your eligibility for rehire, and your salary history. According to Forbes, over 80% of employers contact references for final job candidates. Additionally, an OfficeTeam survey found that employers eliminate 20% of candidates after contacting their references.
Professional vs Personal References
What’s the difference between a professional and a personal reference? Again, the giveaway is in the term “personal.” Rather than vouching for your professional and industry-related skills and abilities, a personal reference is someone who has known you on a personal basis for several years and can speak to your character and personality traits. These are very different, and it will be important to pay close attention to the type of references the prospective employer is asking for. The hiring manager may ask for a combination of both professional and personal references to get a more complete picture of the type of person he or she could be hiring. Keep in mind that employers are interested in the both the technical skills and soft skills you bring. Even though personal references won’t speak to your work capabilities, it is a good idea to choose personal references who are reputable and hold positions in the community that give credibility to their evaluation of you, such as a pastor, a business owner, a professional outside of your industry, a non-profit director, a city official, or even a friend who has walked with you through difficult times.
Who Should I Use as a Professional Reference?
When it comes to professional references, good options include:
- A current or former colleague who has seen your skills in action
- A former supervisor or employer
- An instructor
- An internship or volunteer supervisor
- An internal or external client
Future employers will usually ask for more than one reference, likely because they want multiple sources who can provide varying viewpoints. So, it is a good idea to keep an updated list of candidates. Be sure to select different types of professionals who can provide unique perspectives on your qualifications concerning work style, skill level, projects you’ve worked on, contributions you’ve made, teamwork, conflict resolution, time management, and communication. These could be in a work, classroom, or volunteer setting. Regardless, each reference you choose should be able to provide specific examples of the qualities they are describing.
Your list of professional references should include people you had a good working relationship with, who worked with you directly in the recent past, and who you know will advocate for you while being honest. For obvious reasons, it is not recommended that you use a current supervisor as a professional reference as it could jeopardize your current position; however, you alone can make that determination.
How Do I Ask for a Professional Reference?
Start by making a list of your options. Then, approach each one personally to reconnect, if needed. You can do this face-to-face, by phone, or via e-mail. Then let them know of your request to use them as a professional reference; you should ask for permission ahead of time. In your communication with them, there are a few points of etiquette to keep in mind:
·Give the Details
After getting their permission, you will need to communicate the specifics of what you are asking them to do and what they can expect. For example, will they need to write a formal letter? Will they be receiving an email or phone call? When can they expect that?
You will also want to provide the reference with a copy of your resume so they are familiar with your full background, as well as a job description of the position you are applying for so they can tailor their talking points to match. Explain that you would like them to identify some specific examples of your skills and achievement that they can reference if asked. You may be able to outline some things together, even.
·Get the Details
You likely have a reasonable expectation that the person you are approaching for a reference will provide a positive recommendation for you. However, it may be prudent to ask if they can give you an idea of what they plan to say, or what examples from your working relationship they might share. This will keep you from being caught off-guard should the prospective employer reference the topics in the future. Depending on how the references are to be submitted, you may even ask to receive a copy of the correspondence to review before its submission.
You’re asking someone for a professional courtesy by being a reference for you when, so don’t leave them hanging. Keep your references apprised of your job search progress, send a thank you note for their assistance (yes, an actual hand-written note!), and let them know if their reference helped you secure a new job. Nurturing these relationships will serve you well for any reference needs in the future, not to mention providing you with an ongoing professional connection.
What Reference Information Should I Include?
The prospective employer should let you know of any unique requirements for providing references, such as what format correspondence should take, where it should be sent, if a phone call will be made, etc. In general, however, the following information should be provided for each reference:
- First and last name
- Company name
- Current title
- Preferred contact information - phone number and/or email or physical address
- Brief description of the reference’s professional relationship to you
Steps for Advancing Your Career
When seeking professional references for starting a new job, additional indicators of job success they can refer to are the steps you have taken to further your skills and knowledge for career advancement. Have you pursued professional development? Have you earned a master’s degree in the physical classroom or through an accelerated online degree? Have you received a promotion or been assigned a special project that demonstrates your professional growth and development? By being intentional about career advancement, you set yourself up for glowing reviews from your professional references.
Advance Your Career through Accelerated Online Degrees
If you are seeking professional references, you are likely in the process of starting a new job. But don’t stop there! Keep reaching for your goals and that next career move by continuing your education. Explore Ottawa University’s many accelerated online degrees to find the one that will propel you to the next level. Also located in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Phoenix, Ottawa University is an accredited university with more than a century of preparing students for lives of significance. Contact us today!
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