Want a Professional Reference? How to Ask and What to Expect

Although including “References available upon request” in your cover letter or resume may seem archaic and out-of-date, they are still a crucial element of the recruiting process. Prospective employers may be impressed by an applicant’s credentials, but they need to be certain of their potential, so they often contact the applicant’s references to find out more about their work ethic and performance on the job.

It’s critical to gather your professional references in advance of completing your next job application. However, who should you ask and how should you approach them? Experts on career and recruiting provided their suggestions for obtaining a strong professional recommendation.

1. Ask a direct supervisor or professional mentor.

The ideal persons to give as references are your direct bosses from past employment, provided you still have a solid working relationship, according to Bill Peppler, chief operations officer of staffing agency Kavaliro. While it may not always be feasible, if your present manager is very accommodating, you might be able to ask for a recommendation while you look for your new position.

When it comes to your skills and work ethic, “[direct supervisors] know you best and can vouch for you,” said Peppler. “Professional mentors are yet another group to seriously consider. Consider those who have taught you or taken you under their wing if there are any in your firm since they are well-aware of your personality and open to comments and instruction.

According to Shawnice Meador, executive director of career and leadership for the [email protected] programme at the University of North Carolina, it’s crucial to take into account how long ago you worked with the individual. Selecting a former coworker over a more current job might be a sign that you’re attempting to cover something up. A previous reference, at the very least, may not be as relevant at this point in your career.

Meador said that as everyone develops professionally with time, using the example of someone you worked with 15 years ago could only be accurate. The source will be more relevant to the individual making the call if it is more current.

As an alternative, you may ask a professor to talk about your academic history if you’re a student making your first foray into the profession. Students are urged by Ruma Sen, a communications professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey, to consider carefully why the professor they want to approach would want to suggest them. She also advises students to get references from their lecturers in the most official manner feasible.

I’m not all that enthused about suggesting someone who can’t compose an email without making grammatical mistakes, she remarked.

2. Inform the person beforehand and give plenty of notice.

When you leave a job or internship, your boss could sometimes offer to act as a reference for you. Giving that individual a heads-up that a prospective employer could contact them about your application is still considered respectful. You may do this easily by sending the individual an email informing them that you’re seeking for work and requesting their consent to provide your prospective employers access to their contact information, according to Meador.

In order for the individual writing the reference or letter of recommendation to fit it into their schedule, Pat Dean, director of recruitment at factory maintenance and IT firm Advanced Technology Services, advised giving them plenty of advance notice.

When you ask someone for a recommendation, Meador also suggested showing them your gratitude. Nobody’s contact information should ever be posted without their consent, however. This has a number of issues, particularly if you put it on a résumé that is posted publicly. Not only are you exposing that individual to unwanted messages, but they will also be caught off guard if an employer asks for a reference and most likely be ill-equipped to discuss you and your credentials. It’s preferable to warn your reference in advance to prevent that worst-case situation.

When giving out personal email addresses or phone numbers, Peppler advised always asking first and thinking about the repercussions.

Make sure to provide enough time for preparation on the part of your reference. For instance, Jumoke Dada, the creator of the online community for tech-savvy women, Tech Women Network, recommends candidates to obtain letters of reference at least a month in advance if an application calls for them. In the end, Dada said, “the more time that they can offer the person, [the better]; I guess it depends on the connection that the applicant had/has.”

3. Give your reference the appropriate background information.

You undoubtedly did a lot of research on the position before the interview so you may present your most relevant experience and demonstrate that you’re a good match. Dean said that in order to provide you with the greatest reference that can be, your source should be aware of the details of your future position.

Meador continued by advising you to be explicit about the job, talent, or achievement you want your source to emphasize.

Reminding recommenders of your working connection is also beneficial. Sen often asks students, for instance, what they’ve done while working with her as well as the characteristics on their CV they’d want her to highlight.

4. Inform the person how you’ll use their reference…

A person may provide a reference for you in a few different ways. To ensure that your source is prepared, you must be explicit about what you want. Will the employer make a direct call to them? Does the business need a letter? Know the details so you can ask your reference the right questions.

“I absolutely want to know what a suggestion is for, how it will be shared, and how often it will be utilized (assuming it does not exist on an internet network like LinkedIn),” Dada said. “It would also be beneficial if they could provide me some background information about their present position and duties. The advice will be simpler to write the more details they can supply up front.

No matter who you ask or what kind of recommendation you want, keep in mind that your references are working on your behalf, and you should treat them as such. Respect their choice and go on to another source if they aren’t willing to provide a reference. If they agree to do so, send them an email or perhaps a real card in the mail to express your official gratitude for their time and work.

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