Who Makes for a Good Job Reference?

Kailyn Champlin
14 Aug 2019

When drafting your resume, you normally include a line at the bottom stating “References: Furnished upon request.” But what happens if the hiring manager actually requests your references? Who should you list? Most places ask for two personal references and two professional references, but what if you no longer speak to any of your prior coworkers? What if you were the only employee at your former job? What if you have never even had a job before?

Here are some ideas for job references you can use if you’re not quite sure who to turn to. Just be sure to always ask the person’s permission before putting them down as a reference. You don’t want to put them in a situation wherein they feel like the hiring manager is putting them on the spot. Not only do they not have enough time to craft their answers, but they could end up resenting you for not giving them the common courtesy of simply asking their permission first.

A Former Professor or Teacher

If you’ve never had a job before, a former professor or teacher works wonderfully as a “professional” reference of sorts. This is because a teacher is an unbiased party who will provide the hiring manager with the information he or she needs regarding your work ethic and level of enthusiasm when it comes to learning new things.

In that same vein, another option is your college advisor. An advisor is a great choice because he or she can explain to the hiring manager what your career goals were when you started your college career and how you have evolved in meeting those goals. If your advisor has been with you every step of the way and has seen how hard you were willing to work during your college years, then he or she can act as an effective witness to your character.

A Former Supervisor

If one of the reasons you are leaving your current job is because you don’t get along with your boss, consider asking a former supervisor to act as your reference instead. Chances are, your supervisor spent enough time with you on your projects to provide a hiring manager with a clear picture insofar as who you are as a person and what you accomplished as an employee.

Past and Present Colleagues

Most folks choose former colleagues to act as their references. While former colleagues you still speak to are more than likely your friends, they are also valuable references because they can inform the hiring manager of the kinds of projects you worked on together. They can fill in the blanks on your achievements as part of the team that you might have forgotten to focus on in your resume and cover letter.

The same goes for present colleagues. Some folks may not realize they can utilize the people they still work with as references. And who better to give the hiring manager a current snapshot of your skills as a worker than someone who is still presently working with you?

A Family Member

For most people, putting a family member down as a personal reference is a no-brainer. However, this packs more power if you have a family member who can also speak to your skills as a professional.

For example, while you may want to list your mother as a reference, because she’s sure to give you a glowing review, why not consider instead listing the cousin you worked with at the ice cream shop over summer break every year? Your cousin is just as likely to give you a glowing review because he or she is family, but you also have the added benefit of a professional reference, having also previously worked with your cousin.

An Authority Figure from Your Past

While not as common, some folks don’t have much, or any, remaining family, and/or they have never held down a job. What does a person do then?

You can use any authority figure from your past whom you trust and who can speak to your character as one of your references. This can be anyone from your pastor to your former Boy or Girl Scout leader – anyone who served as your leader or organizer of sorts. Just be sure to ask their permission first – especially if it’s someone you haven’t spoken to in years.

And, of course, no matter who you choose as a reference, always be sure to thank your references, whether or not the hiring manager contacts them. Thanking your references is just as important as thanking those who interviewed you. And be sure to return the favor and offer to act as a reference for them too, should they ever need one.

Kailyn Champlin