How to Select Who to Use as a Reference

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When you are applying for jobs you'll need to have a list of references ready—those people who are familiar with your qualifications, talents, and work ethic and are willing to vouch for your credentials. There are different types of references you can use to help land a job, depending on the circumstances.

Who's the best person to use for a reference? You may have both professional and personal references that you can call upon, depending on their expertise, how they know you, and the job for which you are applying.


The people you use as references should be able to attest to your skills, abilities, and qualifications as they relate to the jobs you apply for.

Types of Job References

When you're seeking employment, there are several different types of references you can use.

Professional References. Individuals who can provide a professional reference for a job include previous employers, managers, colleagues, clients, business contacts, and others who know your workplace skills and are willing to recommend you for the position.

Personal References. If you haven't worked before or if you have been out of the workforce, you can use character or personal references from people who know your skills and attributes as an alternative to professional references. Good sources to use as personal references include coaches, pastors, or people for whom you have done volunteer work.

Academic References. High school teachers, college professors, guidance counselors, faculty advisors, and other people who can attest to your academic achievements can make good references, especially for internships, summer positions, and entry-level jobs.

LinkedIn Recommendations. Keep in mind that you can also get references on LinkedIn. If you have recommendations on your LinkedIn profile, prospective employers will be able to see at a glancewho is recommending you and what they have to say. Here's advice on how to get LinkedIn recommendations, who to ask for references, and how to manage the recommendations you've received.

Who to Use as a Reference

Who you ask to give you a reference will depend on your personal and professional circumstances. It's important to be sure that the people you choose to recommend you are willing to give you a good reference. You might be surprised that this isn't always the case.


It's important to check before you use someone for a reference—you want to be sure that there isn't anything negative in what they have to say about you.

Giving the person the opportunity to bow out of providing a reference can save you from a potentially embarrassing situation.

How Many References You Need

Your list of references should include at least three people, along with their job title, company, address, phone number, and email address. If you're applying for a senior level position, have five to seven references available to support your candidacy.

The Best Way to Ask for a Reference

Not sure who you should ask to give you a reference or how to ask them to recommend you for employment? Here's how to ask for a reference, along with a sample reference request letter you can tailor to fit your personal circumstances.

Be sure to take the time to follow up and keep the people you use for references updated regarding your status.


You should also write a thank you note to show your appreciation for their willingness to serve as your reference.

When you ask for a reference, you should provide them with all the information they will need to speak or write persuasively about you. Good documents to send them include your resume, the job descriptions for which you are applying, and lists of your volunteer and/or team activities.

Create a List of References

It's important to line up your references ahead of time. Before placing someone on your list, make sure they are willing and able to provide you with a glowing recommendation. Create a separate reference list, using the same header you have used for your resume, and have it ready to give or send to employers upon request.

In some cases, employers ask for a reference list as part of a job application, along with a resume and cover letter. In those cases, the company may check your references in advance before contacting you for an interview.

How to Share Your References With Employers

There is no need to include references on your resume or to give references to an employer before they ask for them. However, you should be prepared to provide references to potential employers when requested.


You may be asked to provide references when you apply for a job, or you may be asked for them further along in the application process.

Also, bring a copy of your reference list (along with extra copies of your resume) to give to companies when you interview. For virtual interviews, have a list ready to email to the employer upon request.

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  1. CareerOneStop. "References." Accessed Jan. 5, 2021.

  2. Monster. "Get Your References Together for Your Job Search." Accessed Jan. 5, 2021.

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