Professional References

What Is a Professional Reference?

It’s common for potential employers to ask job applicants for professional references. A professional reference is someone who can provide information about the applicant’s skills, work ethic, and achievements. These insights can help the employer determine whether the applicant is qualified for the open position.

References for a job can also verify details on the applicant’s resume, such as their job title and length of employment.

Personal vs. Professional References

Personal references are individuals who know the applicant outside of work, such as friends, family members, teammates, neighbors, or acquaintances the applicant has met in social settings or community organizations. These individuals can vouch for their skills and overall character. For example, an applicant’s volleyball teammate might highlight their leadership skills and ability to raise team morale.

On the other hand, professional references are people who have worked with the applicant and can speak to their professional goals, habits, work behavior, and notable contributions to the company. For instance, a direct supervisor may discuss an applicant’s analytical skills and receptiveness to feedback.

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Professional Reference Letters vs. Listing References on a Resume

A professional reference letter, also known as a recommendation letter, is a brief letter to a potential employer that highlights the applicant’s hard and soft skills, character traits, and professional achievements. This letter should convey why the applicant would be an asset to the potential employer’s business.

As for listing references on a resume, job seekers should only do so if the job application specifically requests them. In this case, applicants should provide the following information for each professional reference:

Then, based on the potential employer’s preferences, professional references may be asked to fill out a form, write a letter, or answer a phone call to discuss the applicant’s qualifications.

Who Can Serve as a Professional Reference?

A job reference can be anyone the applicant has worked directly with in paid or unpaid positions, such as:

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The Value of Professional References on a Resume

Reaching out to professional references allows hiring managers to better understand an applicant’s personality and how they would approach the new position based on their past work experiences. Hiring managers want confirmation that the applicant is qualified for the role and that their professional reputation is consistent with the information they shared during the interview process.

If applicants provide multiple professional references, this can help hiring managers notice certain patterns. For example, several people may note that the applicant was a pleasure to work with because of their collaboration skills.

At the same time, multiple references can provide different perspectives, which helps hiring managers evaluate the applicant holistically. For instance, a direct manager may discuss how the applicant effectively navigated roadblocks to meet project deadlines and company revenue goals, while a colleague might share how the applicant helped them have a smooth onboarding experience.

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