Professional References: 9 Rules of Thumb to Follow

Professional References: 9 Rules of Thumb to Follow 


In my career, I’ve often been asked to provide references when applying for a festival or program. I must admit, figuring out whom to ask to be a reference is my least favorite part of the application process. Even though this happens every year, I’m always caught off-guard, with no idea who to put. I even sometimes feel self-conscious, afraid the person I’m asking will say no. 


In reality, that rarely happens. Luckily, the best antidote to that anxiety-inducing moment is to find your professional references now before the application and interview process begins. When you do so— 


  • You’ll be prepared when inevitably you’re asked for your references. 
  • You’ll have all your references’ contact information confirmed. 
  • You’ll have already discussed being a reference with your reference, ensuring you’re both on the same page. 


Now, the number of references you’ll need will vary based on the job position. However, a good rule of thumb is to have at least three. People you could ask could be: 


  • Former managers 
  • Coworkers 
  • Associates 
  • Direct reports (those who directly reported to you) 
  • Clients 
  • Customers 


Ideally, your references should be from a variety of different sources. Above all, choose people you trust to give you a good reference. You want to put your best foot forward in a job interview process and having a wildcard reference can ruin that. 


So, to ensure you make the best impression possible, discuss the following with each of your chosen references: 


  1. Ask for their permission to be a reference. This might seem obvious, but it can be overlooked when you’re frantically filling out an application or hurriedly thinking of potential names. Don’t worry—most people will say yes if you ask them. But it’s important that you do. 


  1. Confirm their contact information. This includes their phone number, email address, current workplace, and current job title.  
  1. Go over your resume. Make sure they know your work history, accomplishments, and goals. They don’t need to have your resume memorized, but they should know whatever will be most helpful for you during your job search process. 


  1. Why you left the company. Get on the same page about why you left so that there’s no confusion or differing stories. 


  1. Your strengths. You don’t have to tell your reference exactly what to say, but make sure they know what your strengths are. 


  1. A weakness. You only need to have one weakness prepared (let’s not give them too many reasons not to hire you, right?). 


  1. Would they rehire you? If your reference was in a position above you, this is one point to discuss. 


  1. How do you get along with others? What was your dynamic like with your team, coworkers, boss, and others? 


  1. Notify them whenever you use their name. A quick email to let them know what you’ve used their name for is a courteous rule to follow. 


Of course, not every discussion point will be necessary for you to go over with your references. Depending on the nature of your relationship, some might not be necessary to discuss at all. Even so, they are good points to keep in mind when sorting out your professional references. 


For more help with the job search process, check out our career portal. It includes access to articles, videos, and other useful job search tools that are guaranteed to bring your search to a new level. 


Happy referencing!