Job Hunting Tips for High Schoolers: Who Should I List As My References?

Katy Boyles |
Katy is our Social Media Manager at Snagajob, where she loves talking to hourly workers and employers all day long. Her first hourly job was as a hostess.

For many teens, applying to a job for the first time is a stressful and intimidating experience. Job applications can be complicated, especially for someone who’s never filled one out before, and there may be questions included that you don’t quite know how to answer. 

One of these sections that can be most confusing for teens is references. This is a section of your application where you are meant to list the contact information of different people who can validate your information and speak to your qualifications and experience. 

For adults who’ve spent years establishing their careers, this section is fairly straightforward. They’ll just list their former bosses or colleagues. But what about teens and students who have never had a “real” job before? Who are high schoolers supposed to list as their references? 

The answer is not as simple as you may think. While many students’ first inclination may be to list their parents or another close relative, this is often not the best choice.

Who to list as your reference as a high schooler largely depends on what exactly you’re applying for as well the various different activities you’ve participated in up to this point. If you’ve taken part in an after school club, summer program or volunteer activity, then your mentors from those experiences will probably be best. If you’re dedicated to athletic extracurriculars, your coaches or trainers may be better served to speak to your abilities and character. 

Below, we’ll discuss some different options of who high schoolers can list as their references. However, the decision is ultimately up to you. 

Before You Do Anything: Notify Your References 

No matter who you’re listing as your reference, you’re going to want to make sure that they know you’ve listed them before you submit their name and contact information. 

While it’s important to ask for permission in giving out the personal contact information of an adult or other authority figure, there’s actually much more to it than that. 

Firstly, you don’t want your reference to be surprised and unprepared when they get the call and receive questions about you. If your reference has time, they may take the opportunity to jot down some notes and prepare their statements, so that they can best assist you when the call does come. For this reason, you want to be sure and give them plenty of prior notice. 

Additionally, it’s important to tell your reference exactly what you’re applying for and why you’re listing them on your application. If, for example, you list your basketball coach as a reference for an internship at a bank, you’ll want to make sure that your reference describes your leadership and problem-solving skills first, not your flawless three-point shot. 

If your reference knows you well enough that you feel comfortable listing them, chances are that they can adapt their answers about you to any situation or job you may be applying for. For this reason, don’t hesitate to let your references know why you want this position, why you think you should get it, and why you need their help. 

Can I List My Parents As A Reference? 

While you want to make sure that your references are people who have nothing but good things to say about you, high schoolers should avoid listing their parents, grandparents or other close relatives as a reference if at all possible. 

Besides projecting a certain air of immaturity, listing your parents as a reference is a mistake because employers or other institutions are looking for a well-rounded, objective view of who you are. It’s all but a given that a close family member may struggle to provide that, so teens should avoid listing parents as a reference. 

The only exception to this rule is if you’ve previously been under the employ of a family member in an official capacity. If, for example, you helped clean the floors and take out the trash at your uncle’s mechanic’s shop and were paid for that work, then your uncle may be able to provide the impartial information that employers are looking for. 

Even then however, it’s best to try and include one of the following options instead. 

Who Should Teens List As Their References? 

Here are five options that teenagers have when deciding who to list as their references. 

1. Informal Employers

While you may never have held an hourly job before, many teens have done odd jobs here and there for some spending money in the past. If you’ve consistently done the same type of work for the same type of clients — something like babysitting the neighbor’s kid or mowing an elderly widow’s lawn — then consider asking one of them to be your reference. They have a solid understanding of the type of worker you are, and are likely to have nothing but good things to say. 

2. Teachers

This option is especially good if you need a reference for a college application, though many employers will respect the opinions of your teachers as well. If you have a teacher whose class you’ve performed well in or one that you’re particularly close with, ask them if they’ll be your reference. Not only can a teacher speak to your academic ability, but they’re also likely to have some insight into both your personality and your social skills as well. 

3. Coaches

Similar to a teacher, athletic coaches are likely to have a unique insight into your personality and ability. If your relationship with your coach is one contained only to the athletic arena then you may consider looking elsewhere. However, if, like most high school students, you regularly interact with your coaches both on and off the field, then this is a great and unique choice. 

4. Other Extracurricular Mentors

Have you participated in any other extracurricular activities that are led or supervised by a well-respected adult? Perhaps an after-school STEM club or a volunteer organization? If so, consider asking the mentor or sponsor of the club to be your reference. 

5. Faith Leaders

Preachers, priests and ministers in your community are another great option to consider when trying to decide on your references. Like teachers and coaches, these are community leaders who are sure to have a well-rounded perspective of your personality and character. Additionally, their standing among your local community will be noted by whoever talks to them about you. 


Even if you’ve never held a traditional hourly job, there are lots of options when it comes to who high school students can list as their references. 

Whether it's your teacher, coach or someone else entirely though, it’s important to remember that references: 

1) Should not be your family members

2) Should know you’ve listed them as contacts

Above all, make sure you send a letter of thanks to your references. It’s always important to show appreciation and will help you continue a good relationship with these positive references as you enter the workforce. If you follow these tips and list the right references, you’ll ace that application for sure! 

If you’re looking for more information on summer programs, gap years or volunteer opportunities – places where you just might find an adult who could serve as a great reference for your application – check out

By: Johanthan Kindall, Content Editor at TeenLife Media