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As you begin or continue your professional career, you’ll begin to notice more-and-more job postings requesting personal and professional references.  These references are requested by potential employers to verify your work history and experience and to get a more personal sense of your experience and work ethic.

Personal and professional references can be asked either during the application process or after an initial interview with the recruiter or hiring manager.  Typically, you will want to provide three separate references for the employer.  These professional references should be individuals with whom you’ve had a close working relationship with and who understand and can testify to your work ethic and capability.

What Is A Professional Reference?

A professional reference is someone whom you have had a close working relationship with, who can vouch to your work ethic and capability.  Typically, professional references are obtained from current or former supervisors or managers.  This is not always the case though.  So long as the professional reference had direct, constant contact and interaction with you, they can be tapped as a professional reference.

Professional references should also have a general idea and understanding of the work you’ve completed.  They should be able to vouch and verify any work-related questions a potential employer may have concerning your previous work experience.

Who Is A Professional Reference?

A professional reference is someone who has worked closely with you at your current or former place of employment.  As it may be difficult to procure a reference from a current employer, it is acceptable and encouraged to receive the professional recommendation from previous employers.

Although it is preferred that the professional reference be a direct manager or supervisor of yours, it is acceptable to have colleagues and coworkers provide the reference.  For students or recent graduates, professional references would constitute former professors, teaching assistants, coaches, or deans.

In addition to former supervisors and managers, you can tap into vendors and clients that you have a close working relationship with.  These vendors and clients will provide credibility and will be able to vouch to your work ethic and industry knowledge and capabilities.  Vendors and clients are also especially useful references for individuals who were previously self-employed.

How To Find A Professional Reference?

Part of the reason why it is so important to maintain contact and cordial connections with former colleagues, coworkers, and managers is to be able to request a professional reference.  One of the best ways to reach out to former colleagues and managers is through LinkedIn, which is why you should be constantly updating and checking your connections there.

When looking for a professional reference, you want to begin in reverse chronological order.  Start with your most recent, or current, place of employment and search for references there.  If you are unable to find anyone, then move onto your next most recent place of employment.

Although it is ideal to receive a professional reference from your current employer, most employers understand that this is a tricky scenario and are amiable to the next most recent employer of yours.

You should look to reach out to former colleagues and coworkers who worked in a close capacity with you and who understand the work you were responsible for.  Although they do not need to be experts in your field, they should have a general understanding of the work you completed.

In addition to a close working relationship, the individual you choose should have a positive history and relationship with you.  You do not need to be great friends but should ensure that any reference is someone who believes you have positive traits and are a hard worker.  While you want someone who is honest and provides feedback to your potential employer, you don’t want someone who may say something unprofessional or averse to your goals.

Furthermore, you want to provide professional references that will be able to attest to your successes at a former place of employment.  They should have an intimate sense of the work you completed and how you directly actioned certain tasks towards a successful completion.

You also want a professional reference who can provide reference specific to the job being applied to, it is far better to have a reference from a similar field as to the job being applied for than not.  For example, if you are applying to a public health role, it is better to provide reference from someone in that field than from an individual in another field.

How To Ask For A Professional Reference?

Once you have decided on a few references, you will want to reach out to them prior to providing their names to the interviewer or employer.  This is an act of courtesy on both sides and you do not want to blindside the reference with an unexpected call.

Depending on how close you are to the reference, you can opt to call, text, email, or LinkedIn message them asking for a professional reference.  Please see below for examples on reaching out to contacts for a professional reference.

For former coworkers you are not close to:

Hey [NAME],

I’m reaching out to you requesting a professional reference for Company XYZ where I am interviewing.  Although I cannot guarantee that they will reach out, I know that our extensive work history will provide you with ample topics and examples to discuss.

Please let me know whether or not you are comfortable with providing a positive reference for our work together at Company LMN.

Thank you,

For former coworkers you are close to:

Hey [NAME},

I have an upcoming interview with Company XYZ and would like to provide your name as a professional reference.  I wanted to confirm with you that you would be comfortable with my providing your name and that you feel comfortable providing a positive reference?

Thank you,

Ensure Positivity

Receiving a professional recommendation is as important to what is contained within the letter.  You want to ensure that your references provide professional and positive recommendations and do not discuss your faults or errors.  That is why you should ask, and confirm, that their recommendation will be positive.

When you reach out to a contact or former colleague for a recommendation, be sure to note that the recommendation being provided is “positive” and speaks to your “accomplishments as a career professional.”  You can also return the favor by leaving a positive, well-worded reference on their LinkedIn profile.

How To Provide To Employer’s?

You should be constantly updating and working on your list of references.  This reference sheet should be ready and available for use when applying to new jobs and positions.  This will save you time and headache during your application and will help streamline the entire process.

When applying to open positions, you may be asked to provide a professional reference either immediately upon applying or after an initial interview screen.  When an employer asks for a list of professional references, you should provide to them via a simple Word document.  You should include the references name, email address, personal number, company where they are employed, their current title, and a company address.

What To Do In The Interim?

Once you have provided the list of references, there is not much to do except to keep your professional references up to date on the process.  Never give out a reference’s information without their explicit consent.

While waiting to hear back from the employer, be sure to thank the references and let them know they may be contacted.  If you hear back from the employer, regardless of whether or not you got the position, you should thank them again and let them know what happened with that position.

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