Choosing the Best Professional References

Professional references are a big part of the hiring process and should be selected with care since can make or break your candidacy for a job. Here are five ways to choose the right references and keep them primed for employer calls.

1. Like a Boss
Employers don’t expect a reference from your current manager, but a past supervisor who can speak to your specific accomplishments and contributions is a must. Keep in touch with your former managers through social media, email, holiday cards, etc., especially if you had a great working relationship. You may even find yourself on their recruitment short lists.

2. Peers and Subordinates
Having a “bad boss” at some point in your career is a rite of passage. We’ve all been there. If you find yourself in this situation, asking coworkers to serve as references may be the way to go. Make sure they can speak to your performance and successful outcomes on specific projects or tasks. If you are interviewing for a management role, current and past subordinates make great references because they can describe your ability to mentor and develop employees. Both peers and subordinates can offer insight into your ability to be a team player.

3. Other Relationships
Professional references are not limited to managers and coworkers. Do you have a contact on the inside who can confirm your experience? Ask if they will serve as an internal reference. Customers, project leaders, and volunteer, event, or charity board members you have worked with can also be excellent references.

4. The Power of Prep
Most employers look for three to four professional references. Ideally, this will be a combination of supervisors, peers, and subordinates (if applicable). Provide your most relevant references, and include name, company, title, working relationship, and contact information for each reference listed. Call your references at the beginning of your job search to reconnect and prepare them for requests from prospective employers. Use this opportunity to remind them of the success you generated together and to make sure they are still comfortable serving as a reference.

5. New Grads
Cultivating relationships with college faculty and staff can lay the foundation of your professional life. These people have deep community and industry connections, and excellent reputations. Instructors and department heads who were willing to recommend you for internships may be equally open to providing a reference, or even directly recommending you to employers. Turn a great relationship with your instructor or advisor into a network building opportunity by connecting on LinkedIn.