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Professional References: Definition, Types & Why They’re So Important

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When you apply for a corporate job, you will likely need to submit references to your potential employer.

Even if you are applying for an entry-level or minimum-wage job, many employers ask for professional references.

However, you might not fully understand what they want when they ask for professional references.

Fortunately, you are not the first person who might feel confused by this subject.

What Are Professional References?

A professional reference is a recommendation for a job by someone that can vouch for your abilities.

These references are typically from former employers and clients. They can also be business contacts of any type if you have previously worked with them professionally.

Young people without much professional experience can get professional references from former teachers and people from school.

Professional vs. Employment References

Depending on the application, you might get asked for professional or employment references.

As a result, you might be worried that you don’t understand the difference. Fortunately, there is no difference between the two.

Professional and employment references are two words for the same thing. They both refer to references from former employers, business partners, and clients.

Professional vs. Personal References

The big difference you need to understand when getting references for a job is between professional and personal recommendations.

As we outlined above, professional references are from people in your professional network.

They can vouch for your qualifications in the workplace, as well as other traits like work ethic and character.

However, employers will sometimes ask for different types of references, especially in the form of personal references.

A personal reference is from someone outside your work life. They could be a family member, friend, or someone you know from the community.

However, it is often not a good idea to list family members as personal references because employers will perceive them as biased.

Why Are Professional References Important?

While there are several different types of references, professional references are different from personal references and usually more valuable.

Employers will check references to get an idea of how you will perform as an employee.

While they do not expect the references to be completely unbiased, they can learn about your abilities. Having high-quality references will put you in a better position to get a job.

Here are the top reasons employers ask for professional references.

They Give Insight Into Your Work Skills

The number one reason employers ask for references is to get insight into your work skills. Your resume will list all your qualifications and paint a glowing picture of your performance in the workplace.

However, all employers know that resumes are incredibly biased in favor of the candidate. While references also include some bias, they are not as dramatic.

Reading about how you performed at your job from your former boss gives employers a better idea of what kind of employee you will be.

So, it is crucial to provide stellar references when applying for a job.

They Help Employers Learn if You’re Qualified

Your technical qualifications, such as meeting education and certification requirements, should be present in your resume.

However, they won’t tell employers if you are capable of doing the job.

Professional references can tell employers if you are qualified to do a job in a practical sense.

Many candidates can do a job on paper, but when it comes to doing it, they might struggle. Professional references help narrow down the candidate field.

They Help Employers Learn How You’ll Fit Into Company Culture

Finally, professional references can tell prospective employers how you fit into the workplace.

Are you a team player? Do you prefer to work on your own?

These things are essential to employers and will be topics they will consider when talking with your professional references.

Who Is Acceptable as a Professional Reference?

If you are still going through the process of asking somebody to be a reference, you might not know who to ask.

Former clients are always good options for references. As much as you might assume your boss or manager might be a good reference, it’s usually not wise to list your current boss as a reference.

Can You Put a Friend as a Professional Reference?

If you plan to list a friend as a professional reference, you must pay attention to the requirements.

Employers usually have a set of qualifications they need your referrals to meet. If your friend meets them, you can list them as a reference.

However, friends are usually better saved for personal references.

Can You Use a Coworker as a Professional Reference?

Coworkers are better options for professional references than friends.

While you might be friends with your coworkers, they know what it means to work with you. They have experience working on projects with you and can attest to your performance.

While references from supervisors are more valuable, getting a reference from a coworker is acceptable.

How To Choose Professional References

Picking the correct references is challenging. If you have several options, it can be difficult to narrow them down.

Here are some things you should look for in professional recommendations.

Think About Coworkers, Supervisors, Former Clients, or Customers

The first thing you should do is think about people from former jobs you can ask. It is always better to ask for a professional reference from someone you have worked with recently.

Recent references will hold more weight than if the reference is from someone you worked with five years ago.

Choose Someone Who Thinks Highly of You

One of the most crucial factors to consider is how highly the reference thinks of you.

You want someone that will sing your praises. You do not want someone who weighs the pros and cons of your candidacy.

Instead, you should find someone who will highlight the good aspects of working with you while ignoring your flaws.

Choose Someone You’ve Worked Closely With

Another crucial factor is how closely you have worked with a reference. The closer you have worked with someone, the better.

These references can give a better and more reliable account of your success in the workplace.

Choose Someone Who Can Speak to Your Skills

Finally, pick someone who can eloquently speak about your skills. Ideally, they are someone that can speak well if a potential employer calls them.

How To Ask and Prepare a Professional Reference

Once you know who you want as a reference, you must ask them. Doing so might be nerve-wracking, but it is necessary.

How To Ask

Here is how to ask someone to be a reference:

  • Choose the Right Person – The first thing you must do is pick the correct reference. Once you do, you can proceed.
  • Reach Out By Phone or Email – Next, you should reach out to your reference by phone or email. Your personal relationship with the person will determine whether it should be a call or email.
  • Ask Politely – Ensure you ask politely. Even if you are close with the person, you are asking them to take time out of their day to write a reference.
  • Include Details – Let your reference know what details you want them to include in the recommendation and what to avoid.
  • Follow-Up – Always follow up with references and give them plenty of time to write their recommendation. You want to avoid springing it on them with little time to prepare for the call.
  • Thank Them – Lastly, thank your reference for taking the time to write a recommendation for you.

How To Prepare

Here is how you should prepare your reference:

  • Give Them Notice – The most crucial thing is to give them plenty of notice. Doing so will allow them to prepare a better reference for you.
  • Let Them Know the Timeline – Ensure your reference knows what the timeline is like.
  • Let Them Know What Will Be Asked – If the prospective employer plans to call them, let them know what questions they can expect to receive.
  • Give Them Details on the Job You’re Applying For – Finally, inform your reference about the job your applying for so they can craft your reference to the best of their ability.

How Many Professional References Do You Need?

If you are applying for a standard job, you should probably have three to four references you can call on.

However, it is common to need five to seven references if you are applying for a senior position.

How To Give Professional References to Potential Employers

References should be sent to potential employers via email unless stated otherwise. If you meet them in person, you can also hand your references directly to your potential employer.

Wrapping Up

It is crucial to have solid professional references when applying for most jobs. As a result, it is essential to maintain relationships with former colleagues and supervisors.

Do you have any questions about personal references? Leave us a comment below!

Putting the time into qualifying a good reference can mean the difference between getting a job and losing it to another candidate.

So, ensure you have a good list of professional recommendations you might consider asking to consider acting as references when needed.

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