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Unlock the Power of Professional References

A young professional at her desk taking notes as she calls professional references to do reference checks on job applicants.

Job hunting can be an intense process, where every detail can make or break your prospects. To get that edge on the competition, professional references can be your secret weapon that sets you apart and champions your professional reputation. Beyond polished resumes and rehearsed interviews, references are a critical component that employers rely upon to make judgements about your abilities, work ethic, and character.

Potential employers don’t merely glance at your references, either. Most hiring managers and HR staff will be making full use of the references you provide to ensure that you’re the reliable, credible person your documentation makes you out to be.

References serve as the bridge between your claimed accomplishments and the reality of your performance.

This fact makes them a powerful component of your job search.

Who makes a great professional reference?

Given the profound impact references can have on landing a job, selecting the right people to represent you to prospective employers is incredibly important.

This isn’t the time to call on casual acquaintances or personal connections.

Rather, it’s imperative to highlight solid professional relationships with colleagues and supervisors who can attest to your contributions and capabilities. The references need to be both current and well-maintained in order to have the greatest value, accuracy, and relevance.

What about references for those lacking a lengthy work history, especially students or new entrants to the job market? Many students participate in extracurricular and volunteer activities, honor societies, and sports teams so seeking endorsements from these groups is key. Mentors, teachers, and other personal networks can also speak to an individual’s overall potential and character traits to help seal the deal.

How and when to ask for a professional reference?

When you ask someone for a reference, you are asking them to stand up for you and attest to your skillset and character.

You’ll want the reference to be genuine and meaningful to help you stand out from other candidates.

It goes without saying that you should never give someone as a reference without speaking to them first; only once the reference agrees should you share their contact information with a prospective employer.

Maintaining positive relationships with your references is non-negotiable. Respect their time and goodwill by reaching out only when actively pursuing an opportunity, ensuring you don’t exhaust these crucial connections. Also, make sure to guide your references to share relevant information and provide them with the necessary insights to align their recommendations with the role you're pursuing. This strategy ensures their endorsement mirrors the skills and qualities of the position and has maximum impact.

Where to include your professional references?

Contrary to popular belief, references don’t belong on your resume.

You don’t want to waste valuable resume real estate and confuse Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) or lose space for keywords.

Instead, professional references should be compiled in a separate document, showcasing how your professional connections can attest to your skills and achievements along with their contact information.

By not including your references on your resume, you are able to personalize and tailor who you select for your references based on the specific job you’re applying for. Job seekers typically post their resume to job sites or share it with recruiters so you are also protecting your references’ privacy and personal data as well as controlling the flow of information to employers and recruiters.

The Do’s and Don’ts of professional references:


  • Do ask permission before giving a reference’s information to an employer.

  • Do be highly selective and choose your references carefully.

  • Do ensure that they can give kudos to your skills and accomplishments.

  • Do share your resume and the jobs you’re looking at with references.

  • Do offer to provide them with a reference should they need one in the future.


  • Don’t include professional job references on your resume.

  • Don’t use friends and family as professional references.

  • Don’t get references from someone in your distant past.

  • Don’t overuse the same references or give too many references.

  • Don’t forget to follow up to thank them and share the outcome.

The significance of professional references in job applications cannot be overstated. Professional references wield immense power in the job market and career experts agree that they can sometimes make or break an offer. Handle them with care, nurture these relationships diligently, and leverage their influence wisely. These endorsements hold the potential to tip the scales in your favor and present you as an outstanding candidate in a competitive landscape.


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