Ah, that highly-anticipated part of the interview process for every job:
“Please provide 2-3 professional references.”
Hitting this phase might send some into a panicky spiral.
“Should I ask my references permission to provide their info?”
“What if I can only think of one person?”
“Do I have to include my last boss who is a diagnosed pathological liar?”
“Can I put my mom’s info?”
We’ll give you a quick answer to that last one — no. No you can not include your mom as a professional reference.
But there are some ways you can be proactive in this process and have a list of great references at-the-ready when a potential employer asks.
Start thinking about who you want to ask
First and foremost, professional references don’t have to be previous supervisors/managers. While it does bode well for you if at least one of your references was your direct manager, a professional reference could also be a professional mentor, a supervisor other than your own who you worked closely with, or even a colleague you worked alongside with for a while.
You want to choose people who will be able to attest to your work ethic and give the best, most detailed review of your career.
A good rule of thumb about which people to ask is if you can’t honestly say that you gave your all in a particular role and are able to easily admit you weren’t the best employee, you probably want to steer clear of asking them.
And if you know you did a great job, but really did not get along with your direct supervisor/manager, again, it might be in your best interest to skip them.
Ask your references before listing them
This is a biggie. You don’t want to put down the name and contact info of your boss from however many jobs ago who you haven’t talked to in three years with zero warning.
Reach out to them and make sure they’re comfortable giving you a solid reference. Here are some tips for the actual ask:
- Call, don’t email. Especially if you haven't’ talked to them in a while. A call makes room for a deeper conversation and will give you the ability to provide context for the exact job you’re applying for. This way, they can tailor their responses specifically to that job and company. Plus, it’s a lot harder for someone to ignore your phone call than an email.
- Professional mentors and colleagues should be the most comfortable for you to ask, so give them a call first and get that WE under your belt.
- Former supervisors/managers might feel a bit more intimidating to ask. This is why it’s important to exit on great terms with all employers if you can. If you’ve got a former supervisor on your list of people to ask, chances are you feel pretty confident that they’ll have good things to say. Warm up the convo with some heartfelt catching up — ask them how they are! (Humans need this now more than ever, people.) Let them know, in a friendly way, what’s new with you, and where you’re currently heading in your career. Tell them you’re up for a new opportunity, and you’d be so grateful if they’d be willing to answer a few questions about what it was like to work with you.
You might be a tad nervous before the first call, but you got this! Easy peasy.
The million dollar question: Should you ask your CURRENT employer?
In all honesty, this can be tricky.
One way to save yourself some potential awkwardness is to get a reference from them before you’re actually job hunting, so they don’t know if/when you’re planning to leave.
If you have a great relationship with your supervisor/manager, you could ask them for a professional review every 6 months. Let them know you want to document your progress and successes in your current position so that you can continue to improve in the areas you’re not as strong.
Framing it this way allows you to have an always-up-to-date professional reference from your current employer on-hand.
Documenting professional successes to use as references
Whether you’re actively looking for a professional change or not, documenting your successes truly is a win-win for you.
Finish a big project and get kudos from your boss? Document it.
Get raving feedback from a client or patient? Document it.
Having those reviews with your boss every six months to see how you’re performing? Document, document, document!
This allows you to easily be able to prove your worth to potential employers, or even current employers the next time you’re hoping for a raise or promotion.
You can also use the wins and references you pull together in your Biteline profile. Nothing puts potential employers at ease like knowing your current boss thinks you’re awesome.
Now you’re ready to start your go-to professional references list, begin reaching out to them and get to work documenting your career successes thus far.
Go get em, tiger!