A professional reference is someone who can vouch for your qualifications for a job, or provide a recommendation. Your reference should be able to confirm your work ethic, skills and achievements.

You may be asked to provide a list of professional references when applying for a job, in addition to your resume and/or cover letter. More typically, you may be asked to provide references during or after a job interview because the interviewing company sees you as a strong candidate and is considering offering you a job. Either way, it's important to be prepared and have a list of at least 3 references ready to give when asked.

You may choose to ask any of the following types of people (current or former):

Volunteer Coordinators
College professor
School advisor

Your reference list should not include: Family, friends, or anyone who does not know you or has not agreed to be a reference or would not give you a good reference.

References may be asked to comment on the following areas:

Your strengths
Your weaknesses
Personal qualities
Ability to get along well with others

If you're working, you probably don't want your employer to know you're looking for another job and would not list them as a reference. You can list current coworkers if you trust them and are confident providing their information.

Check in each time you list someone as a reference. Ensure they are comfortable accepting the role of being a reference. Even if you asked them a while ago but are getting back into job searching again or applying for a new job, give them a heads up and give details of the position. Thank the person in advance for taking the time to talk to a potential employer, and update them on your job status, especially if you get hired. It is helpful to provide your references with some information so that they can represent you effectively.

  • A current resume
  • Topics brought up during the interview process
  • Copy of the job description
  • Specific accomplishments from when you worked together (PSRs)
  • Areas / skills you have developed
  • What do you want them to say about you

Here is a sample email that you can use to connect with your references:

Dear Pat,

As you may know, I am in the process of looking at new career opportunities and I am hoping that you would be willing to act as a professional reference for me.

I am currently interviewing for ________________ positions. A positive reference from you would be of great value. I would appreciate it if you could speak to the skills and qualifications that I demonstrated while working for you. Here are some specific skills that are relevant to my current career goals:

  • Leadership
  • Facilitation
  • Collaboration
  • Organization
  • Motivation
  • Delivering projects ahead of schedule

I have attached my current resume for your review as well as a link to my LinkedIn profile.

Thank you.