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Professional References: The Secret Weapon in Your Job Search Arsenal

Updated: May 5, 2023

A young professional with glasses and a beard is seen smiling and talking on the phone while looking out of a large window.

As the job market grows more competitive, it is critical to elevate your status as a qualified applicant in a verifiable way. An impactful résumé is a great way to get your foot in the door, but strong professional references add credibility to convince hiring personnel that you are the best candidate for the job. In this article, we’ll show you why professional references are hugely important, who the best people are to use as references, and how to successfully ask for a reference.

How important are references? In a study published by Robert Half in 2019 [1] “senior managers report removing one in three (34%) job candidates from consideration for a position with their company after a reference check.”

Many employers require references as part of the application process and the majority contact the colleagues you’ve listed.

A firsthand account of your performance from a supervisor or coworker proves more to a potential employer than the best stand-alone résumé can. References have the ability to lend credibility to claims regarding work ethic and skills and provide a potential employer with an idea of how you will fit into their company culture. Professional references can highlight your day-to-day performance, augment the achievements featured in your résumé, and speak to your true character.

An article by entitled “What recruiters really do with professional references” [2] indicates that recruiters primarily ask references to: 1) judge your skills, including your work history, performance, and professionalism; 2) fact check what you’ve already told them, to determine if the way you’ve represented yourself aligns with your previous employer’s assessment of your performance; and 3) learn more about what you’re like in the office in order to gauge the quality of the data your references are providing.

The power of a great reference can ultimately impact which candidate is selected for the job.

Therefore, it is essential to pick individuals who know your skills and can positively speak to your strengths in the areas that are relevant your target position. References must be people that you have worked with directly; family and friends may know you well, but employers are looking for references that can speak to your talents on a professional level. Try to find former supervisors and coworkers who have had relevant and consistent interaction with you and can deliver strong and positive feedback on the way you interacted in your role.

It is critically important to choose people who can be trusted to advocate for you and convey your best qualities to the interviewer. Many people find it useful to make a comprehensive list of colleagues who have interacted with them professionally then narrow it down based on these factors. Figuring out your list of contacts is only the beginning of securing good references. When contacting a potential reference, there are several factors to remember. First, make sure that their contact information is current and accurate, and verify what method of communication is best for them. You’ll then want to prepare them by explaining the requirements of the job you’ve applied for. It may be helpful to give them a copy of the job description and discuss it with them in relation to your unique skillset. Not only will your references be better prepared to speak on your behalf, but you will be more confident approaching an interview knowing your references can support the claims stated in your résumé.

Though professional references are frequently overlooked, they are one of the keys to successfully landing a job.

Since most employers require references, be proactive and have that list of contacts updated and ready. Carefully selecting relevant and impactful references and preparing them for the reference check can significantly enhance your chances of getting a job offer.


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