Career Pathways


At some point during the hiring or application process, you will likely be asked to you to provide a list of professional references. A reference check is often the last thing done before an offer is made. So you absolutely want to find people who will speak highly of your abilities as a professional. It’s a good idea to have three to five references available. The National Association of Colleges and Employers offers these tips for obtaining good references.

Ask, don’t assume

Ask your references for permission to use their names. Confirm the following:

  • Do the people you include as references actually want to give you a reference?
  • Does their schedule permit time to discuss your qualifications?
  • Most importantly, what kind of reference will they be? When it comes to references, neutral is the same as negative. So ask your contacts to be honest. Will the people you ask give you a positive recommendation?

Let the professionals do the job

Potential supervisors are not interested in hearing friends or relatives talk about how nice you are. They want confirmation for their main objective: Are you going to deliver the duties of the job? Good reference sources include previous supervisors, co-workers, professors, or advisors. Think outside the box: If you voluntarily coordinated an organization’s fund-raising effort, the organization’s supervisor could be a great reference. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t paid.

Avoid name dropping

A reference’s name or job title is insignificant compared to the information he or she will provide regarding your strengths and weaknesses. CEO may be a loftier title than supervisor; however, who can better attest to your abilities on a daily basis?

Provide references with the appropriate tools

Give each reference a copy of your resume, so he or she has a complete picture of your background. Provide a description of the job to which you are applying. Knowing the duties and responsibilities ahead of time will prepare references for questions they may be asked and help them relate your experience to the potential job.

Alert references to potential phone calls

Contact your references and tell them to anticipate a phone call or e-mail. Tell them the name of the company, and the position for which you interviewed. If you know the name of the person who will check your references, offer that information, too.

Keep your references informed and say thank you!

Were you offered the job? If so, did you accept? When will you start? When you accept a job offer, take the time to write each of your references a thank-you note. They have played a valuable part in your receiving an offer.

Keep in touch

Don’t end contact with your references. Send an e-mail, call or meet them for lunch on occasion. You never know when if and when you may need to call upon them to serve as a reference in the future.

Update your list

Just like resumes become outdated, so do reference lists. As your career builds, keep your reference list up-to-date.

Return the favor

Your references may have been the deciding factor in your job offer. When you are asked to be a reference, say yes.


Virginia Commonwealth University
Division of Student Success
907 Floyd Avenue, Room 143
Box 842007
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2007

Phone: (804) 828-1645
Fax: (804) 828-2060
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