How to get employment references

How to get employment references

Keeping good personal references is not the first thing on the list in this busy world, yet it should be for the future of ourselves and our prosperity. So, how does a person identify and ultimately, personally acknowledge that reference–whether it be a co-worker, friend, or supervisor? Who are the hidden candidates that could be called upon and labeled as a Good Reference?

Not too many people go around discussing these things. It’s just something we all have to know how to do, by osmosis I suppose. Agree? In the search for a definitive sign of a good reference, there are a few things to consider and a few different types of people who will fit into at least three or four reference categories.

The preference categories are as follows:

personal reference (not a family member), business reference (supervisor or overseer), or work reference (a co-worker who was familiar with you and your work style/work). The fourth category is a rare one, but it does exist on job applications: someone who is not related to you and has not worked with you. This may include friends/acquaintances who are fond of you. Typically, all of these people would have to have known you for at least one year on a standard job application.

Now, back to identifying these individuals in your life. The most common question that comes to mind for many people probably is: How do I go up and ask someone if they would be a reference for me? Believe me, this is not the easiest task; in fact, sometimes people may find that they get rejected. It seems most people become rather shy and apprehensive when asked to give a work reference. Why? The reason is unclear; responsibility is possible. If anything, they should be flattered that they were asked to be used as a reference and trusted, too. But, people will be people.

The best people to stick to and recall when in need of references are:

co-workers who worked closely with an individual, co-workers in other departments who are fond of an individuals work and who the individual has done good work for in the past and has been appreciated by these people, supervisors who have helped an individual learn and grow, or someone (not work-related) who has to know the individual for an extended period of time (whether it be someone they have done community or volunteer service with or has helped out in some honorable way).

On the other hand, it is not advisable to use supervisors or bosses who did not give good reviews or who were overly critical of the individual. It is also not wise to use co-workers who were friendly but did not know the individual long enough to give a complete reference on them (they could have forgotten all about the individual–as people come and go). Do not give personal references such as mother, father, cousin, sister, or aunt. This looks silly and is not professional. If this were the case and we could all use these types of references, then we would all look absolutely wonderful in the eyes of these people, right?


Common sense works well when it comes to references. An individual should remember to ask politely and know the person long enough before asking for the reference. Make sure good contact is kept between the two people, as people move and phone numbers change. A nice suggestion is to take the reference out for coffee and bring it up or just approach it in a positive and flattering way. Usually, people are receptive. If the person is not receptive, its not a good idea to push. Just drop the idea and find another reference that is more upbeat and positive about it. It has to feel right. Keep in close contact with the reference and reward them in small ways (cards, meet for coffee, call and say hello, etc.). Keeping good references also keeps good friends.

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