After rounds of interviews, an employer may consider hiring you and ask for references from your former supervisors. What exactly is a reference? Who should you ask? How do you ask? Here are some insights into securing yourself a strong reference.

What are references?

References are people who can speak about your work to prospective employers. Prospective employers typically ask for three to five references. For graduate school or teaching positions, your references will typically write up a recommendation. For jobs, the prospective employer will usually call your reference to obtain information.

Who should you ask?

Ideal references are former employers, internship supervisors, volunteer supervisors, and professors. Ask people who you’re confident will speak highly of you, your skills and qualifications.

Can your current supervisor serve as a reference?

Employers may request to speak with your current supervisor. However, if your current supervisor does not know you are searching for a new job, be sure to inform your prospective employer of the situation. Prospective employers will often wait until an offer is extended to speak with your current supervisor. If you do not have a good relationship with your current supervisor or feel that he/she would give you a bad reference, select someone else from the organization who will speak positively about your work.

How should you ask?

Before listing an individual as a reference, you must ask for their permission via email or in-person.

How can I ensure I obtain a good reference?

The best way to ensure a good reference is to prepare the people who have agreed to serve as your references. In addition to providing your reference with an updated copy of your resume, you should inform them of a few things, including:

  • What position you’re seeking
  • Who will be contacting them
  • What the employer is looking for
  • How you believe your background and qualifications fit the employer’s needs

What questions will my reference be asked?

Your references will usually be asked two types of questions:

  • Fact-based questions including length of employment, job title, punctuality or job duties.
  • Professional performance questions about your reliability, integrity and productivity in the workplace.

Remember that misrepresenting any information, especially factual information that can be easily verified, is a breach of professional ethics and can cause you to lose a job offer.

Providing a Reference List

You should only provide a reference list to your prospective employer when asked. Your reference list should be typed and should include the following:

  • Your name, address, and phone number on the top
  • A list of your references, including their names, titles, organization names, work addresses, phone numbers (including extensions), and email addresses

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