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Choose Wisely: Tips for Selecting Job Application References

Choosing the right job application references during your job search requires some thoughtful consideration. Use these handy tips on how to best handle this process to maximize your chances of landing a job you really want.

A photo of two businesspeople talking on the phone in different locations to confirm the job application reference of a job applicant for a certain position for which an employer is interviewing

You’ve done your job search and found a role you’d like to fill. You add your skills, education, and experience to the job application in all of the appropriate spots. Everything is going along smoothly until it asks for professional references.

Who should you use as a professional job application reference? Before you answer this question, it is helpful to understand what employers will likely do with this information.

Why Potential Employers Want a Professional Job Application Reference (or 3)

You can tell a potential employer how wonderful you are all day long, but the reality is that people can easily embellish or exaggerate their skills or how effectively they work. Instead, employers like to talk to coworkers or previous employers to learn what they think of your work ethic and ability to perform specific tasks.

Receiving a highly favorable professional reference on a job application can place you ahead of other job search applicants who lack this type of confirmation. It tells a prospective employer that you are the real deal and can do the things you claim on your resume and during the job interview process.

Oftentimes, employers will ask for multiple professional references. The reason for this is because it gives them a better big-picture overview of who you are and how you operate. They will look for things that all of your references say to gain a better understanding of you as a worker versus relying on just one person’s opinion.

What Questions Will Employers Ask Your Professional Reference?

The questions asked of your job application references will vary from employer to employer. Some businesses are more thorough with their hiring process and ask a lot of questions about your background, work methods, and skills. Others take less time on this step, asking only one or two questions before moving on to the next professional reference.

That said, it is likely that some of the questions will be asked in an attempt to verify the information you provided on your job application. They may want to confirm the time frame of your employment, the tasks you were assigned, and whether you have the skills listed on your resume.

Some employers will dig a little deeper and ask what it is like to work with you. They want to know more about your personality, attitude, and approach to handling tasks or dealing with challenging situations. They may also ask the professional reference about what they see as your strengths and potential weaknesses.

It’s not uncommon for one of the questions to be whether the reference would hire you or work with you again if given the chance. If they answer with a yes, that is a promising sign that you are a good job applicant.

How to Choose Your Professional References

Now that you have a better understanding of why a potential employer would want a list of professional job application references and what they will likely ask, it makes it easier to decide who would be good for the purpose. Ideally, you want to choose people who are able to provide the information the employer seeks.

One of your first considerations should be someone who currently works for that company. If you have a positive internal reference, this can easily move you to the front of the pack.

It’s also helpful to use your current manager or supervisor. Because this person oversees your work, they can provide a more complete professional reference. If you aren’t currently employed, consider using a previous supervisor as a professional reference. This person can still vouch for who you are as a worker.

If the position you seek deals directly with clients, consider including a professional reference that fits into the target audience. For example, if your job search leads you to apply to a marketing role with a nutrition company, provide a reference who is into healthy eating and can vouch for your knowledge (and ability to persuade) in this area. Having this type of client-specific reference suggests that you could be a good fit for the role.

Coworkers also make good professional references. The last thing an employer wants is to hire someone who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the team. Consider people you currently work with as well as those you may have worked with in the past.

What If This Is Your First Job and You Don’t Have a Professional Reference?

Everyone has to start somewhere, so it is possible that this is your first true job search. Who should you use as a job application professional reference if you’ve never worked before?

When you are new to the work scene, it is helpful to use references who can speak to your work ethic, character, abilities, and achievements. This at least tells the employer about who you are, your level of drive, and your willingness to put forth maximum effort. People to consider include those you’ve volunteered with, done work for free of charge, or have otherwise seen you in action.

Supplying the right professional references can impact your ability to put your job search behind you and begin working in a role you desire. That’s why it is important to choose people who can speak about your skills and abilities, providing a positive recommendation that is worthy of advancing to the next step of the job application and hiring process.

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