Things to Think About When Choosing a Professional Reference

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By Cara Sellon

Recruitment Specialist

When interviewing for a new job, the reference-checking step is one of the last stages of the recruiting process. It’s an important way for your prospective employer to contact former coworkers or managers to help them learn more about your personality and uncover more about your work ethic.

But when asked by a recruiter or an HR manager to provide a list of professional references, who should you choose? Here’s some simple advice that I commonly give to candidates on the types of references they should provide during their job search.

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Ask your references for permission

Before listing anyone as a professional reference, it’s common practice to first ask for their permission. Not only will this allow them to approve their status as a reference, but it will also give them time to ponder what they can say about your character, your previous work experience, and your sense of professionalism. Giving your references a heads-up will only boost your odds of receiving positive reviews that can further enhance your job search success.

Choose wisely

Depending on your age, deciding which references to send to your prospective employer can be a difficult choice to make. For example, if you’re a college-aged student with limited professional experience, it may be difficult to come up with a list of professional coworkers to use. Ultimately, selecting coworkers or managers from previous internships or full-time office positions will serve you well in the reference-checking process. If need be, look to athletics coaches, teachers/professors, or neighbors for reference support.

Select references with different experiences

Rather than choosing professional references that all work for the same company, mix things up. Try to find managers, supervisors, and other colleagues that you worked with at different times in your life. By sharing stories about your past experiences, these references will be able to paint a picture in your prospective employer’s mind about how you have grown and matured throughout your professional career.

Avoid current coworkers

If you’re still employed by a company but are secretly combing the job market for a new role, it makes sense to avoid using your current coworkers as references. Don’t do anything that might tip off your current employer about your search for a new position. Instead, do your best to keep a low profile by avoiding telling your colleagues about your job search. Try to utilize professional references from past work experiences that can share information about why you’d make a great employee for your prospective employer.

Don’t save the best for last

Depending on the company you’re communicating with, you may be asked to provide up to five references during the late stages of the recruiting process. Even if a prospective employer asks you for that many references, they’re only interested in talking to—at most—two or three of them. That’s why it’s always important to put your strongest references at the very top of your list. By selecting your most formidable references and putting them first in line, the odds are higher that they will be the ones contacted during the reference checking stage.

Interested in getting in touch with a recruiter to explore available job opportunities? Check out this blog to learn how you can reach out to a recruitment specialist and initiate your job search.

For candidates seeking new positions, head to the Job Seekers section of our Acara blog.

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