What Makes a Great Professional Reference

How to Pick One and How to Be One


Professional references can be extremely helpful tools in your resume, but only if you’re selecting the right people. You want someone who can speak positively about your work ethic, skills, and character. 


Here are some examples of people who may be the right professional reference for you:


Direct Supervisors or ManagersFormer or current supervisors who can attest to your job performance, accomplishments, and work habits are excellent choices for professional references.

Colleagues or CoworkersPeers who have worked closely with you and can speak to your collaboration skills, professionalism, and contributions to projects can also be valuable references.

Professors or InstructorsFor recent graduates or individuals with limited work experience, professors or instructors who can speak to your academic performance, skills, and dedication can serve as references.

Mentors or AdvisorsIndividuals who have provided guidance, mentorship, or advice throughout your career or educational journey can offer valuable insights into your character, growth, and potential.

Clients or Customers: Whether you earned extra money mowing lawns, babysitting, or tutoring, you’ve got a client and potential professional reference who can discuss your skills and quality of work.

Avoid Family or Friends: While it might be tempting to ask a family member or friend to serve as a reference, it’s generally best to choose individuals who can provide a professional perspective on your qualifications and abilities.

When asking someone to be a reference, make sure to obtain their permission first and provide them with any necessary information about the position or opportunity you’re pursuing. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep your references informed about your job search process and to express your gratitude for their assistance.


Being a good professional reference is crucial for helping someone secure a job or advance in their career. 


Here are some tips to be an effective and helpful reference:


Know the Person Well: Be familiar with the person’s work, skills, accomplishments, and character. If you’re not well acquainted with them, politely decline the reference request.

Be Honest: Always provide honest feedback about the person’s strengths and weaknesses. Lying or exaggerating can damage your credibility and harm the person’s chances in the long run.

Prepare: Before you provide a reference, take some time to refresh your memory about the person’s work history, achievements, and skills. This will help you provide specific examples when discussing their qualifications.

Be Positive: Focus on the person’s strengths and positive attributes. Highlight their skills, accomplishments, work ethic, and professionalism.

Provide Specific Examples: Back up your statements with specific examples or anecdotes that demonstrate the person’s abilities and achievements.

Be Professional: Maintain a professional demeanor throughout the reference process. Be courteous, respectful, and mindful of confidentiality.

Follow Guidelines: If you’re asked to provide a reference in a specific format or through a particular platform, make sure to follow the instructions provided.

Respect Privacy: Respect the person’s privacy and only disclose information that is relevant to the job or opportunity they’re pursuing.

Be Available: Make yourself available to answer any follow-up questions the potential employer may have.

Communicate: Let the person know when you’ve been contacted for a reference and provide them with any feedback or insights you gained from the conversation.


By following these tips, you can be a valuable and effective professional reference, helping others advance in their careers and achieve their goals!

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