Choosing Professional References

Monday, July 17, 2017 | Posted by: Alpha Kappa Psi

One of the more nerve-rattling parts of an application or interview process can be deciding who to select as a reference. Employers ask for references to validate your experience, your personality, and your follow through. No matter how well you do in an interview, having solid references can be the determining factor of whether or not you get the job. So, how do you select the right professional and personal references? Here are a few tips to help you decide.

  1. Ask Permission.

Don’t simply hand a reference’s contact information over to a potential employer without letting them know to expect a call from the hiring manager. Getting an unexpected call from an interviewer can be frustrating for references, or they might not even bother to reply. This also makes you look unprepared, both in the eyes of the interviewer and the reference. Worst, you might burn that bridge and be unable to use this person as a reference in the future. Plus, when you take the time to ask permission, you have the opportunity to give your reference an idea of what interviewers might be looking for, as well as get a sense of your reference’s feelings about you.

  1. Trend Professional, Not Personal.

There are only a few situations where it’s applicable to use a friend or family member as a reference. In fact, most applications will specify that references must be professional, or limit the number of personal references. While these people can speak well to your character and personality, they’re less likely to be able to speak to your practical skills or job performance. If you have the option to only provide a few references, you should try as hard as possible to make sure they’re professional, not personal, or only include one personal reference among a few. If you’re a recent college graduate, consider using a professor or campus leader to speak to the skills you’ve grown as a student.

  1. Think Strategically.

Use the job posting and what you’ve gleaned about the company to aid you in selecting references. Ask a professor or past colleague who is respected in your field to be a reference. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while and have completed satisfactory work for a well-regarded company, ask your point of contact or prior supervisor there. The higher your reference’s credibility in the eyes of your employer, the better. Not to mention, you’ll also want to think strategically about when the employer might contact the reference. If your have a hard time getting a hold of your reference because of their schedule, or they live in a different time zone or country, they may not be the best choice.

  1. Predict Their Evaluation.

Don’t pick a reference that will say too many negative things about you. You want them to be honest (see the next section) but not to your own detriment. For example, say in your last job you did good work, but it was obvious you didn’t enjoy the position. Your attitude might have reflected that and if you choose that supervisor as your reference, you run the risk of this information being shared with a potential employer. This is, again, why it’s wise to ask permission first.

  1. Don’t lie.

49% of the 3,100 hiring managers surveyed by caught a job applicant fabricating some part of his/her resume. The simple way to avoid this is not to lie on your resume. However, it’s quite common for job applicants to list a friend as a reference and ask them to vouch for experience the applicant might not actually have. Recruiters and managers aren’t stupid. They will catch you in a lie, and you’ll lose an opportunity.


How do you decide who to list as a reference? When you’ve been asked to be a reference in the past, what do you wish might have been different? Share your stories in the comments below.

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