Top 10 Sources for Job References

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A critical element of the job search is determining what contacts you will provide to potential employers in the event that they wish to check your references.  Carefully selecting each reference is very important, and you should always be sure to ask your potential reference for permission to use their name on your job applications.  This gives them advance warning that an unfamiliar number might ring their phone, and it gives them the opportunity to think about what they would like to say if called upon to give their opinion.

So who should you consider for your list of references?  Here are some of the best sources for building your reference list:

1.  College Professors

College professors are an excellent source for recommendations, particularly for recent graduates.  Try to secure a reference from a professor that teaches in your major or area of concentration if possible.  Many professors will also write a general letter of recommendation for their students (if asked), which you can include in your professional portfolio to be displayed during interviews.

2.  College Advisor

Your college advisor is a particularly strong source for a reference, since advisors work very closely to assist with course selection.  They also regularly evaluate your academic progress while completing your major area of study.

3.  Former Employers

Past employers can be great references, provided that you left on good terms and performed your duties well.

  A reference from a direct supervisor can carry significant weight with a potential employer.  It is also a good idea to get a written letter from your past employer for your portfolio if they are willing to write one.

4.  Former Coworkers

Former coworkers can also be a source for references, particularly if you did not get along well with your supervisor or are not confident that the supervisor would give you a good recommendation.

  Try to get a reference from someone who worked with you for several years if possible.

5.  Industry Professionals

If you have a connection with a well known professional in your industry of interest, be sure to take advantage of that connection.  A recommendation from someone with an impressive reputation usually attracts attention to your resume.

6.  Community Leaders

Much like the industry professionals mentioned above, if you know an influential person in your community that would be willing to act as a reference for you, be sure to take them up on it.  A notable name on a reference list can attract attention to a candidate.

7.  Volunteer Coordinators

If you have done volunteer work, be sure to consider approaching the organization’s coordinator to ask for a reference.  Volunteer work can build valuable skills and demonstrates your commitment to the community.

8.  Leadership Groups & Clubs

If you were an officer or a member of a leadership group or club, be sure to consider using the group’s academic advisor or coordinator as a professional reference.  These leadership groups can include honor societies, academic organizations, clubs (such as Block and Bridle), sporting organizations (like intercollegiate equestrian teams), or other related entities.


9.  Friends or Family

Friends and family don’t often come immediately to mind when you are trying to compose a reference list, but some employers will ask for personal references on occasion.  In many cases they will specify that they want a personal reference from someone who has known you for 5 to 10 years.  These “character references” are intended to create a more complete picture of you as a candidate, rather than focusing on your professional skills or academic record.

10.  Current Bosses or Coworkers

Current bosses or coworkers can be tricky sources for references, because in many cases you do not want the word to get out that you are looking for other jobs.  Tread carefully when considering current work associates as reference sources.  Current bosses and coworkers are best used for references when you are applying to graduate school, applying for other jobs within the same company, or seeking an internship or scholarship opportunity that would not preclude your current employment.