Professional references (and how to use them correctly)

Snagajob Blog Team |
Categories: Applying

A job seeker asks:

  • I would like to know when old references are no longer current due to lapse of time or people having changed phone numbers. Who can I use beside the current employer when I do not want her to know I'm pursuing another career interest?

  • Some of my prior companies are out of business and there is no way to contact them.

  • What should I do?

The answer:


There is a difference between professional references and work references. Work references are used to verify the dates of employment by contacting your previous employer's corporate human resources department or past supervisor. In general, most companies will only provide name, rank and serial number.

Professional references, on the other hand, are completely different. These are professional friends and colleagues who can speak to your work history, character and other important qualities. Companies call on professional references to dig deeper into the type of employee and worker you really are from the people that you trust most.

It's important when deciding whom to list as your professional references that you ask yourself two things:

1) Can they speak positively to your experience when placed under pressure in a professional manner?

2) Are they willing to speak on your behalf? Have you asked them?

Potential references are teachers, a fellow church or non-profit volunteer, or a past supervisor who you feel comfortable with. Family members are normally discouraged from being listed as a professional reference.

Companies contact references after the job offer has been made as part of the final step of the hiring process. Most companies prefer at least 3 professional references. A poor reference can result in a company rescinding or canceling the job offer they extended. Because of this it is very important to make sure that your references are aware of the position and the responsibilities of a job you have applied to beforehand. It's like providing them a study sheet before the big test. Don't give them all the answers but provide them a list of talking points to help remind them of your responsibilities and experience.

References are an important part of the job search process that is often overlooked. Make sure to list the most current contact information as you have available. If a company is requesting a work reference from an office no longer in business, do your best to reach out to past colleagues who can verify when and where you worked.