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When you apply for jobs, you will be asked for references.

A reference is someone who can answer questions about your work history, skills, abilities, and work style. Choose your references with care. What they say can make a big difference. Remember to send them a thank you note when you know they have given you a recommendation.

What types of references are important?

There are four types of references. References from past employers carry the most weight.

  • Employment references include past employers, co-workers, subordinates, or clients. They can speak about your specific employment experience. You can also list people for whom you perform volunteer activities, babysitting, lawn mowing, and other odd jobs.
  • Professional references are people who know you on a professional basis. They may include contacts from business and sales, clubs, or professional or community organizations.
  • Academic references are instructors and vocational counselors. They can speak about your academic activities. These are most appropriate for current students or recent graduates.
  • Personal references are people who know you personally and can describe your skills. Only use this type of reference if you do not have the other types. Use the names of people who can tell an employer you can be depended on to do a good job.

How do you choose people?

  • Select people who honestly know you and will speak objectively.
  • Avoid using family members or close friends as references.
  • Avoid references that may be controversial or may concern the employer. This includes clergy, counselors, or social workers, less they are relevant to the job.
  • Someone who is influential in the community or business may be an effective reference, if they can speak about you related to employment.

How can you prepare a reference for the employer's contact?

Contact the person to ask if they are willing to be your reference, before you give their name to a potential employer.

  • Find out how the reference would prefer to be contacted.
  • Get permission to give out his or her contact information: name and phone number or e-mail address.
  • Find out the best times to reach her or him.
  • Discuss your job search goals and the specific employers who may be calling. Many references prefer to see the job description and your resume so they can answer specific questions.

An employer may also ask for your reference’s occupation, how long you’ve known each other, and the nature of your relationship.

What other documents might help?

At an interview, bring copies of letters of recommendation from former employers, and past performance evaluations in case the employer is interested.