Who Should I Ask?
When offering a list of professional references, understand that a prospective employer wants to gain greater insight into who you are at work – your work ethic, professionalism and on-the-job experience. Therefore, the best people to list would be those who offer professional credibility, such as a former boss, colleague, someone you've supervised or even someone from an organization where you were a volunteer or a student participant.
Still, for those just starting out, it may be tempting to list a close friend on your reference list. However, friends and family should only be listed if a company is requesting “character references.” When providing professional references you want to stick to those who can discuss your past work.
Romans and Countrymen
A good professional reference is someone who is your advocate – someone who wants to see you succeed as much as you do.
Also, a good reference can clearly articulate your strengths, areas of expertise and describe your development over time.
Individuals with whom you have worked, a former mentor, colleagues from professional organizations, professors and academic advisors who have witnessed you working on projects and with campus organizations … all of these individuals are likely sources for references.
When selecting your references, include only those who understand why you left a particular company and who will say good things about you, your leadership and your performance. Also, be sure to include on your list the person’s name, relationship to you, title, company, phone number and e-mail address.
Good Reference Etiquette
Once you've created your list, be sure to ask each person about their willingness to serve as your reference. Some companies have policies against providing information about former employees other than their dates of employment and confirming salary information. This situation may cause you to consider an alternate person to serve as your reference.
Also, once a prospective employer indicates that that they will be contacting your references, make sure to give your contacts a heads-up that a call will be coming. This is an ideal time to provide them with insight into the job for which you have applied, reminders about how your work experience aligns with the position and let them know about any confidentiality concerns about your progress in the interview process (in case your current boss doesn't know that you’re interviewing).
When you've made it to the final interview stage, a good reference can help you rise above the competition. So, choose wisely and allow your references to be your advocate.