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A reference is someone who can answer questions about your work history, skills, abilities, and work style.

When you apply for jobs, you will be asked for references. Choose your references with care. What they say can make a big difference. Remember to send them a thank you note when you know they have given you a recommendation.

What Types of References Are Important?

There are four types of references. References from past employers carry the most weight.

  • Employment references include past employers, coworkers, subordinates, or clients. They can speak about your specific employment experience. You can also list people for whom you perform volunteer activities, babysitting, lawn mowing, and other odd jobs.
  • Professional references are people who know you on a professional basis. They may include contacts from business and sales, clubs, or professional or community organizations.
  • Academic references are instructors and vocational counselors. They can speak about your academic activities. These are most appropriate for current students or recent graduates.
  • Personal references are people who know you personally and can describe your skills. Only use this type of reference if you do not have the other types. Use the names of people who can tell an employer you can be depended on to do a good job.

How Do You Choose People?

  • Select people who honestly know you and will speak objectively.
  • Avoid using family members or close friends as references.
  • Avoid references that may be controversial or may concern the employer. This includes clergy, counselors, or social workers.
  • Someone who is influential in the community or business may be an effective reference, but only use them if they honestly know you and your work.

How Can You Prepare a Reference?

Contact a possible reference before you give their name to a potential employer.

  • Get permission to give out his or her name, phone number, or e-mail.
  • Find out if the reference would prefer to be contacted at work or home.
  • Find out the best times to reach her or him.
  • Discuss your job search goals and the specific employers who may be calling. You might ask if you can forward this information in an e-mail so they have it for their own reference.

When you ask a contact to be a work reference, remember they may not feel comfortable providing the reference and may say "no" for a variety of reasons. Thank them for their consideration and end the conversation positively.

What Other Documents Might Help?

You can also provide copies of letters of recommendation from former employers. Copies of written performance evaluations may also be helpful. Bring them with you to an interview if you have them.

Source: Creative Job Search, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.