A solid employment reference can make a significant difference when seeking a new job.

This article explores the pivotal role references play in shaping employers’ perceptions and influencing hiring decisions. From the different references to selecting the right people, we’ll delve into the nuances of creating a compelling professional narrative.


Understanding Professional Employment References 

Professional references are your way of providing proof that you can do a job and that people like and respect you. As part of your application, a prospective employer might ask for these references. Contact details such as your phone number, email address, job title, and possibly even your work address will be requested from you.


Do people still check references? 

A SHRM survey found that 92 percent of responding employers conduct employment background screening and reference checks, where 87 percent conduct checks during the pre-employment stage and 10 percent screen their employees when someone is promoted or switches jobs.¹

Additionally, education organizations and competitive, specialized professional fields are more likely to rely on references. Even if not all employers check references when requested, the SHRM survey suggests it’s advisable to assume they will. Employers may even attempt to contact references multiple times, depending on their policies and preferences.


Personal vs. Professional: What’s the Difference? 

Personal references provide insights into an individual’s character, ethics, and interpersonal skills from a non-professional perspective. It offers a holistic view beyond the workplace since it’s typically sourced from friends or acquaintances.

On the other hand, professional references focus on an individual’s work-related competencies, performance, and reliability. Colleagues, supervisors, or mentors often serve as professional references, offering potential employers valuable insights into an applicant’s work history and qualifications.

While personal references contribute to a comprehensive understanding of an individual, professional references carry significant weight in gauging job-related suitability. A well-rounded endorsement combines both to present a comprehensive and authentic representation of an individual’s capabilities and character.

If you don’t have work experience, you can use references from volunteering, teachers, professors, or respected community members. Avoid using family members, as they may not be seen as credible.


Providing References to Potential Employers 

Only provide references when asked. Job seekers often mistakenly list references on resumes they send out, but it’s best to avoid over-sharing contact information.

Avoid adding ‘references upon request’ on your resume to save space for employment history, education, and achievements. Some application forms offer designated spaces for providing your references’ contact names and/or information at the initiation of the process. Make a separate list of references if the employer asks for it and the application form doesn’t have a specific section.

Related Reading: 6 Tips for Resume Writing 

Occasionally, employers may request a reference letter. If a reference letter is preferred, it is customary for your reference to send it directly to the company. In cases where your reference entrusts you with the letter, they should sign or stamp over the envelope seal, demonstrating that it was delivered unopened.


Preparing Your References: How to Find the Right People 

Ensure effective reference requests by adhering to these guidelines.

1. Carefully select references who can speak highly of your qualifications for the position, emphasizing those who know you well and can effectively communicate your skills, character, and ethics. Choose people you shared a good relationship with, those you think knew you best during your stay in the same organization.

2. Initiate the request whenever possible. Schedule an in-person meeting, send an email, or make a phone call to seek their assistance in your application process formally.

3. Remind them of your relationship and what you did in your previous work. Provide a brief update on your current activities if it has been a while since you last interacted.

4. Craft your request to allow them to decline if necessary. Use a polite inquiry such as, “Would you be interested in providing a reference?”

5. Offer a detailed job description to help your reference prepare for potential inquiries from the hiring manager. Specify the skills, traits, and experience relevant to the position.

6. Share copies of your resume with your references. This lets them understand your professional skills, career progression, and recent projects.

7. Tell them about the position you are applying for. This gives them relevant information to discuss with the employer or hiring manager. This is most important if you have various work experience in different industries.

8. Allow your references sufficient time to consider your request. Provide a timeframe for when you need their information, ensuring they have time to review your resume and the job description.

9. Confirm their contact details, including their preferred email address and phone numbers. Verify the accuracy of their information and confirm their preferred contact method and current job title.


Remember to Ask for Referrals 

If you’re asking people to be your references, don’t forget to ask them for referrals to people and companies they know who are hiring. A personal reference is more valuable if the person or company knows the other person.


Professional References Help You Advance 

Strong professional references are crucial in establishing credibility, showcasing capabilities, and securing opportunities. A well-prepared list of references bridges your qualifications on paper with your character and competence. Placed at the end of the job-seeking process, they boost your credibility, affirm your suitability, and leave a lasting impression on employers.



Searching for a new opportunity can be exhausting, especially if you want to find something meaningful. You must exert more effort to find the best opportunity to match your skills and experience.

Having the right references to support you can make things easier, but a better solution is partnering with experts like Peak Performers to help your job search journey be more efficient and worthwhile.

Our team at Peak Performers can help you land a job you’ll love. We have job openings for Office/Professional, Accounting/Finance, Information Technology, and Engineering roles.

Let us help you access your best job match. Contact us today!



1 “Conducting Background Investigations and Reference Checks.” SHRM, www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/conductingbackgroundinvestigations.aspx. Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.


From the blog

The latest industry news, interviews, technologies, and resources.
Is a college degree necessary for job success? Explore the truth about skills-based hiring and discover alternative paths to employment
Unlock cost-effective hiring solutions! Discover winning strategies to reduce hiring costs and find top talent without breaking the bank.