A Guide to Job References

Identifying and using references might be the most difficult part of the job search for many job seekers. It’s hard to ask someone a favor, even if it’s a necessary and standard professional practice. Entry-level job seekers may be particularly intimidated and confused by the process. If you’ve been wondering about how job references work, read on for a few tips to help with this crucial step in your job search.

Who can serve as a reference?

Professional references should be former managers or supervisors. Co-workers may also be used, but only as secondary references. For students, former professors may be used if the job or internship relates to the area of study. It’s also helpful if you’ve had the professor for more than one class so that he or she can speak more about your abilities. Personal references (requested by some employers) are trickier, because they usually can’t include family. The ideal personal reference is a friend or good acquaintance that has known you for several years and can speak to your reliability.

Contacting Potential References

The best time to reach out to a potential reference is right before or after you leave a position. You’ll be fresh on the person’s mind and won’t have to worry about the request later. Mangers will expect you to ask, so don’t be intimidated. The only reason to worry is if your performance was less than stellar. Professors should ideally be asked in person near the end of a course. Since instructors often have hundreds of students per semester, it’s important that they match your name to your face. Email may be used for requests if you have worked closely with the professor and they know you well.

What if you know a manager will be a bad reference? If possible, leave the job entirely off of your resume and just include references from other positions. This method will only work if the job was part-time or very short-term. If leaving the job off isn’t an option, ask coworkers or other supervisors at the position to serve as references. You might also not include references from the position, but this will seem conspicuous to potential employers and they will likely contact the employer anyway. When you can’t avoid a bad reference, it’s better to be honest about past problems and what you’ve learned from the negative experiences than to be sneaky.

Information to Include

When listing references, it’s important to have accurate and complete information. List the reference’s full name, job title, business name, business address, work phone number and professional email address. If it’s been a while since you left a job, double check with your references to ensure there hasn’t been any changes.

Using References Wisely

Some employers request references upfront, while others may only ask at a certain stage of the selection process. The key is respecting your references’ time. If you do list references upfront, let each person know which companies have their information so that they won’t be caught off guard. Another option for upfront reference requests is to indicate they are available upon request on the reference section of applications. This might hurt your chances at certain jobs, but it may be worth it to prevent reference abuse.

For more help with your job search, read Knock ’em Dead 2013: The Ultimate Job Search Guide .