Picture this: you are applying for your dream job. As you’re filling out form after form, you come to the professional reference section, which probably doesn’t matter that much, right? So, you put down your ex-babysitter, your kooky neighbor and your favorite sister. You fill out the application flawlessly, send in an immaculate resume, along with the perfect cover letter and then you wait. Days, weeks, a month goes by and you haven’t heard from your dream company. Why?


Believe it or not, most employers are still adamant about doing thorough professional reference checks. Here’s what you need to know to be prepared:

 Why do professional references matter?

In simple terms, references prove or validate that the information provided on an application is truthful. These sources can vouch for work habits, values, personality traits and give the employer examples of specific work-related skill sets.

There’s also a bonus that people often forget! Applicants are in control over choosing personal references and, therefore, have the ability to pick those who will highlight key attributes and competencies related to the position. With that being said, it’s crucial to think long and hard about the individuals you choose as references because it does matter!

 How do I go about choosing references?

First and foremost, job seekers must form a list of references who can provide information directly related to the position at hand. Mom, for instance, may not be the best person to choose while applying for an office position. However, a past employer or close co-worker would suffice.

Requesting permission to use these sources as professional references is the next step. You will most likely need permission prior to giving out personal information or requesting a reference letter, and it’s just good manners. Reach out to your reference prospects in advance and give them quick rundown of the position. Those you choose are going to be an active part in the application process when the manager does a reference check, so be sure to let them know. Imagine getting an unexpected phone call from a random employer asking about your best friends’ leadership skills. Would you take it seriously and be ready to reply with position-specific information? Make sure to set up a call or send a professional email with the details that you plan on providing in the reference section.

Last, but not least, send a personalized thank you to each reference!

 Can I have some quick tips?

  • Start now. Whether it’s on the job, in the classroom or on the field, be proactive about building relationships. This means choosing to commit to strong long-term relationships, not just picking up the phone and calling once every 3 years! Professional relationships can come in handy when you least expect it, which is why you need to nurture each relationship you have. The better each professional reference knows you, the better they will be able to communicate effectively.
  • Be truthful. Employers have begun to improve interview tactics that allow them to detect bogus or misleading references. Lying about a reference (or anything, really) during the interview process is one of the worst things you can do. Build an honest and credible list!
  • Think variety. Help out employers by building a diverse reference list. Include employers, professors, colleagues, clients, customers, etc. to speak to different aspects of your varied experience. Make sure those you select are on a professional level enough to articulate work-related skills.

The need for a professional reference list is still relevant today. Providing a credible list of people who can vouch for you can potentially increase your chances at an interview or even a job! Do you have any reference advice? Please share below.