Job references can be tricky. Not everyone is an overachiever who became fast, easy confidants with everyone they’ve met professionally. However, you still likely need them for any job you apply for today; be certain that your employer will ask for them. If you find yourself at a loss for who to ask, I invite you to consider the following suggestions if your professional relationships with these individuals are still viable and you can trust that they would vouch for you. Remember, however, before you list them to actually ask them formally to be a job reference for you!You would not believe how many references are shocked to receive phone calls from employers asking them about an applicant they once worked with. Trust me, this will not reflect well for you.
Now that this is clear, here are five people you should definitely choose for job references and five to steer clear from.
5 People to Pick for Job References
A former employer or colleague.
It’s great to ask a former employer that you left on good terms to be a reference. This individual will likely give glowing reviews about your skills and talents as well as professionalism in the best sense to a new potential employer. Beware, however, if you have not spoken to them in years or did not have an especially close relationship to begin with, you may want to ask someone else.
Your current employer.
This one is a bit foggier. There are cases where it may work great to ask your current employer to be a reference for you. For instance, if you are on good terms and life circumstances like having to move are taking you away from your current role, it’s more than fine to ask your employer. Even if you are leaving for different reasons, you could ask a coworker (not your supervisor or company president) in confidence to be a reference for you. But if you are not on good terms, certainly ask someone else.
A teacher or advisor.
If you are still in school or even if you recently graduated in the past two or three years, it’s fine to ask a former professor or advisor to be one of your job references. Specifically select one that you may have had a close working relationship with, or even a mentorship. Great examples include a career services advisor, a professional advisor (AFA, FFA, MANRRS, PAS, etc.), or a professor in a class you excelled in.
A professional mentor or business contact.
Many professionals today make the wise decision to seek professional mentorship with a more seasoned individual in a role similar to theirs. This person would be an excellent choice for a job reference. Also, if you are part of any kind of professional organization and have made great contacts through networking, feel free to ask!
Clients or customers.
Do you have a client or customer that you have worked with closely, who has been highly satisfied with your work or contributions? These are good options for job references as they can speak of your work, skill, and professionalism.
5 People NOT to Pick for Job References
Any relative…at all.
I feel like this should go without saying, but stranger things have happened, so…just don’t put anyone in your family down as a job reference. This includes your mother, your father, your sibling, your cousin, your uncle, or even your second or third cousin. If they know you, they are biased. And your potential future employer can make the connection even if not obvious.
Don’t ask a friend who knows you very personally and whom you have not worked with in a professional capacity to be one of your job references. Your potential employer will figure it out. It’s also become a trend to have a friend pose as a former employer. Don’t do this either, please! Again, your employer will figure it out. Especially if they try to cross-reference the cell phone number you listed with the actual workplace number of a former employer.
Someone who has not worked with you professionally.
Don’t ask your neighbor, your minister, your hairdresser, your waitress, your farrier, your mailman, or ANYONE who hasn’t worked with you in a professional capacity to be your job reference. They won’t have much to contribute as a reference besides knowing your character and it will look odd to an employer.
Someone you have not asked!
As mentioned previously, don’t surprise both your listed reference and your potential employer by listing a reference you have not asked prior. Your job references should all be aware prior to being listed that they know to expect a call from jobs you are applying to.
Anyone who does not communicate well or you don’t respect.
Don’t list a reference that won’t communicate effectively as one. If they freeze under pressure or can’t find intelligible words to share about you, choose someone else. Also, don’t ask someone to be a reference that you yourself don’t respect. How likely is it that they too won’t reflect well back to your potential employer?