By Rachel Pelta
A job offer is usually contingent on having positive professional references. And whether you
need one or three, figuring out who to use as a professional reference can be difficult if you
don’t have a lot of work experience. So, who should you use as a professional reference?
Who to Use as a Professional Reference
No matter your work history, the one thing to keep in mind is that a professional reference is
someone who can discuss your work-related skills and abilities (both hard and soft skills). It’s
different from a personal reference, who can speak to your personal traits (like how good you
are with animals or how friendly you are). Here are the top candidates you should consider
when asked to provide professional references.
1. Former Boss and Coworkers
The best professional references are often your former boss and coworkers. They have seen
your technical abilities in action and can talk about how you use them in the workplace.
2. People at Your Internship
People from a current or former internship also make fantastic professional references. While
your internship supervisor would be ideal, you can also ask coworkers – but avoid tapping other
interns. They may be able to sing your praises, but another intern may not have experience
being a professional reference, which could impact how the employer views your candidacy.
3. Current Coworkers
Sometimes you may need to use your current coworkers as a reference. If that’s your situation,
ask someone you trust to keep your job offer under wraps! Theoretically, you could use your
current boss, but that is risky. If the job offer doesn’t work out, you could damage your
relationship and future at the company.
Perhaps you earned extra money babysitting or mowing lawns. This means you’ve got a client
list and potential professional references to discuss your skills and work ethic with employers.
5. Where You Volunteer
Not all job seekers have paid work experience, and that’s OK. If you’ve volunteered, the
supervisor or coordinator where you volunteered makes an excellent reference. Likewise, fellow
volunteers can be a reference as long as they speak to your professional abilities.
6. A Professor or Teacher
Finally, a professor or teacher (present or former) can be a professional reference. This is
especially true if that person supervised a long-term project or experiment. But you can still ask
for a professional reference if the professor or teacher can speak to your professional skills (like
how you led a group project).
No matter who you choose as a professional reference, it’s a good idea to verify their contact
information regularly and to give them a heads up before a prospective employer tries to set up
a call. Learn more about the importance of professional references and how to ask someone to
be yours on the Forage blog.
Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at
FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast
Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.
Learn more about Forage: theforage.com