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What is a Professional Reference and How to Get Them

What is a Professional Reference

Professional references play a critical role in the job application process. They provide potential employers with insights into a candidate's qualifications, work ethic, and professional demeanor. This article explores what professional references are, why they are important, who to choose as references, the dos and don'ts, how to request them, and provides examples of how to make these requests effectively.

What is a Professional Reference?

A professional reference is a recommendation from someone who can attest to a candidate's qualifications, work ethic, skills, and character in a professional context. These references are typically current or former employers, supervisors, colleagues, clients, or other individuals who have direct knowledge of the candidate's work performance and professional conduct.

Why You Need Professional References

Professional references are essential for several reasons:

  • Validation: They provide third-party confirmation of a candidate's skills and experience, reinforcing the claims made in resumes and during interviews.

  • Credibility: References lend credibility to an application by showcasing endorsements from respected professionals in the candidate's field.

  • Insight: They offer potential employers valuable insights into the candidate's work style, strengths, and areas for development.

  • Decision-making: Positive references can be a deciding factor for employers when choosing between candidates with similar qualifications.

Who to Use as a Professional Reference

Selecting the right individuals to serve as professional references is crucial. Consider the following:

  • Supervisors and Managers: These individuals can speak to the candidate's overall performance, work ethic, and responsibility handling.

  • Colleagues and Peers: They provide insight into the candidate's teamwork abilities and interpersonal skills.

  • Clients or Customers: These references can attest to the candidate's customer service skills, reliability, and quality of work.

  • Mentors or Advisors: They offer a broader perspective on the candidate's career development and potential.

The Dos and Don'ts of Professional References


  • Do Choose Relevant References: Select individuals who can speak directly to the skills and experiences relevant to the job being applied for.

  • Do Ask for Permission: Always request permission before listing someone as a reference to ensure they are willing and prepared to speak on the candidate's behalf.

  • Do Provide Context: Inform references about the positions being applied for and the key points to highlight.

  • Do Keep Them Updated: Notify references when their names are used and share the outcome of the job search.


  • Don’t Use Personal References: Avoid listing friends or family members as they may not be seen as credible by potential employers.

  • Don’t Assume: Never assume someone is willing to be a reference without asking them first.

  • Don’t Forget to Thank Them: Always express gratitude for their support, regardless of the job outcome.

How to Ask for a Professional Reference

Requesting a professional reference should be done respectfully and thoughtfully. Here’s how to approach it:

  1. Identify the Right Time: Choose a moment when the person is not too busy and can give the request proper consideration.

  2. Make a Formal Request: Whether in person, via email, or over the phone, ensure the request is polite and professional.

  3. Explain the Request: Clearly explain why they are being asked, the job being applied for, and what is hoped they can highlight about the candidate's qualifications.

  4. Provide Supporting Information: Offer the candidate's resume, job description, and any other relevant details to help provide a comprehensive reference.

Reference Request Examples

Here are some email templates to help you request a reference:

Subject: Reference Request - [Your Name]

Dear [Reference Name],
I hope this email finds you well. I'm writing to you today because I'm currently applying for a [Job Title] position at [Company Name]. This role aligns well with my skills and experience, particularly in the areas of [Mention Relevant Skills].
I greatly value the time I spent working with you at [Previous Company Name] on [Project Name], where I learned a great deal about [Specific Skills Learned]. Your guidance and support were instrumental in [Highlight Accomplishment].
Would you be willing to be a professional reference for me? I can provide you with my updated resume and any additional information that you might need.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
[Your Name]

Alternative for a More Informal Approach:

Hi [Reference Name],
Hope you're doing well!
As you may know, I'm exploring new career opportunities in [Industry]. Recently, I came across a [Job Title] position at [Company Name] that seems like a great fit for my skillset, especially in [Mention Relevant Skills].
I remember how much I enjoyed working with you on [Project Name] at [Previous Company Name], and your insights into my [Specific Skill] were invaluable.
Would you be open to serving as a reference for me? I can definitely send over my updated resume and any details about the role that might be helpful.
Thanks in advance for your time!
[Your Name]

Building a Strong Network for the Future

Developing and maintaining a network of professional references is an ongoing process. By understanding the importance of professional references and how to effectively manage them, you can enhance your career prospects and navigate your job search with greater confidence and success. At WORxK Solutions, we offer tailored career coaching and workshops to help you build and leverage your professional network. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your career growth!


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