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Professional References 101

​Professional References 101


In today’s career environment, you have probably been asked by a hiring manager or job application to provide a list of professional references for you and your work. Hopefully you listed someone who could vouch for your skillset and responsibility level. Here are some tips and best practices about professional references.


Usually, the hardest part about gaining professional references is knowing who to contact. However, former employers, professors, colleagues, advisors or supervisors are great places to start. Think about people who would talk you up, point out your strengths and minimize your weak points. But make sure they give honest feedback and do not oversell you in the reference process. You want to be able to measure up to the hype someone heard about you.


Try to avoid using personal references. Just because you have known someone for 20+ years doesn’t mean they can give recruiters or hiring managers an accurate depiction of how you are in professional settings. Family friends might be able to vouch for your character, but you could be a different individual while at work.


Be weary of backdoor references or backchanneling. This is when hiring managers or recruiters gather honest opinions about you from their mutual connections, instead of using your list of chosen references. This can happen more frequently depending on the industry and can be more harmful than beneficial to a candidate. Think of it as revealing some skeletons in the closet that you might not have wanted your new potential employer to know about.


It’s always good practice to prep your references by communicating with them throughout the job search process. Tell them what kind of jobs you are applying for. Give them a list of your strengths and weaknesses for them to draw from if a recruiter or hiring manager asks them specifically. Make sure they can cite specific examples of your work and how you exceeded expectations. The better the reference is, the better your chances of being hired.


One specific question some recruiters like to ask is “Where do you feel they could stand to improve?” This question gives them insight on how well you carry out your current role, as well as what could be red flags for you down the line. You can tell how the reference truly feels about a candidate by the way they answer this question. It also confirms or denies any culture fit concerns if they talk about your work environment.


If you’re a quality worker, you shouldn’t have any problems finding stellar references, and finding opportunities based on your attested work ethic. Other people’s words about you and your skills mean so much more than your own words about yourself. Which just proves that it has never been more important to create and foster meaningful networking connections to help you along your career journey, no matter what industry you belong to.