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Greenfield Community College

Greenfield Community College


Employers require job candidates to have 2-5 professional references.

Professional references are like “gold”, because you can’t get a job without them.  References are especially critical for those who have no or very limited employment history – in general or within a given field.

What (or who) are professional references?

References are people who will vouch for your overall character and work ethic, as well as your qualifications.  Ideally, references will be people who saw you shine, when you worked under their supervision.  It doesn’t matter if you were paid or not for this work.  However, do not use family members or friends as references, since their inherent bias will reduce the employers’ confidence that what is shared about you is objectively true.  When there aren’t other options, teachers/professors and co-workers can serve as references – as long as they have given you permission first.  Employers hope to get assurance from your other employers or other people in positions of authority, that you will be a responsible, diligent, and capable worker who is a good fit for their business.

Sometimes people serve as references informally, when they put in a good word for a job candidate, because they happen to know them as well as the employer.  These references can be extremely influential.  In fact, most jobs are acquired through networking versus submitting applications to employers with whom there are no shared professional or personal contacts.

Why do I need professional references?

If you do not provide employers with the number of references they requested, it is extremely likely that you will be eliminated from the hiring pool.

Professional references are usually provided within applications or submitted to employers as a reference sheet before or after being interviewed for a position.

If the employer is interested in hiring you, they will call two or more your references to help them determine whether or not you would be a responsible, diligent, and capable worker as well as a good “fit” for their business.

Build Your Professional Reputation 

When you have a job to do (paid or unpaid), do everything in your power to meet your employer’s / supervisor’s expectations.  If you work hard, perform well, behave respectfully, and give ample notice before leaving a position, you will likely be able to procure one or more good professional references from each work experience.

Having multiple references to choose from will make it possible for you to provide prospective employers with references who are especially relevant to the job you are applying for.

Get Permission

Get permission from individuals before you use them as professional reference.  If they don’t appear to be enthusiastic about helping you in this way, either check in with them to “clear the air” or don’t include them as a reference when applying for jobs. Your references need to give future employers a great impression about who you are as a worker as well as a person.

Each time you re-engage in the job search process, reconnect with past references to make sure they are still willing to serve as a reference.

Gather Current Contact Information

When you are granted permission to list a person as a professional reference in online job applications or your reference sheet, confirm the following information:

  • Spelling of First and Last Name
  • Current Professional Title
  • Current Place of Employment
  • Current Workplace Postal Address
  • Preferred Email Address (Work or Personal)
  • Preferred Phone Number (Work or Personal)

Additionally, consider including 1-2 sentences about how this person knows you in order to help the prospective employer understand why you listed them as a professional reference.

Getting Organized

Set yourself up for success by generating a list of potential and confirmed professional references – including their full name, title, and contact information.

Ask people to serve as references on an ongoing basis and add these contacts to your “Master Reference Sheet.” Having multiple references to choose from will make it possible for you to pick and choose.  The more relevant a reference is to the job or employer you are applying to, the better.  Additionally, if any of your references can no longer be contacted, you will have back-up allies to call upon.

When you contact a reference or promise to follow up in any way, make sure you have system for remembering this information and following through.

Engaging & Following Up with Your Professional References

Considering that you need strong references in order to get a job, these people and their recommendations are priceless.

Whether this is your first job search or you are engaging in the job search anew, the following best practices are recommended:

  • Confirm that your references’ contact information is up to date;
  • Brief your confirmed references about your job search goals and prospects;
  • Provide references with any information or support they need in order to do well by you;
  • Express your gratitude on a regular basis;
  • Send them a thank you note and share your excitement, when you secure a new position;
  • Give back and pay it forward, whenever possible.