So, You Need a Reference? Here’s What to Know

Career Blog

Published: March 8, 2022 by Jillian Collins

References come from people who know you, your work, and the position you’re applying for. You want to make a direct impact during your interview, but references are your rave reviews from others. With that in mind, here’s a deep-dive reference guide to references!

References Versus Recommendations

There’s a difference between a reference and a recommendation, which was covered in the blog post, “Do You Need a Reference or a Recommendation? Here’s How to Tell,” and starting there will help you get the most out of this  installment on the topic of professional references.


References are individuals who are willing to be contacted by a potential hiring manager to respond to a series of questions about your professional strengths and weaknesses, your work ethic, your people skills, and more. They’re usually contacted by phone but occasionally by email for their responses. Checking references is usually one of the final steps in an interview process.

When applying for a job, you don’t need to mention anything about references (including the old-school “references available upon request on your résumé or application. It’s assumed that you’ll be able to provide references if asked.

Plus, you do not want to waste valuable résumé space. That résumé real estate is reserved for you. More room for statements about your killer work experience or professional strengths!

Refer to This, To Understand a Reference 

You definitely need to have at least three individuals lined up who can speak glowingly about your professional attributes and are happy to do so. A cranky reference person is unlikely to inspire happy thoughts about you in your potential hiring manager. Keep in mind, you want your references to be people who:

  • Has seen your strengths. People who’ve worked with you in some capacity (preferably supervisory) and can not only answer questions about you in a positive way.
  • Can provide proof. You want references to be able to tell stories or give examples of things you did that were especially impressive.

Best References

So, who might know good things about you, and thus be able to say good stuff? These are the people who have been part of your professional journey. Evidence, from them, can persuade a potential employer to want to have you on their team. You should consider asking references from:

  • People you’ve worked for. A manager, supervisor, project lead, faculty with whom you’ve worked as an assistant are fantastic references. They know your best work performance and where you excel.
  • People you’ve worked with. Generally, people you’ve worked for are expected as references. But in a pinch, you can also turn to co-workers and peers who can talk about your people skills, your positive energy, the way you support your colleagues, the times you went above and beyond to ensure the success of a project, etc.

Those stories are essentially a way to document or provide evidence for the glowing assertions your reference provider is making about you.

Coming up…

So, now you’re thinking, what about recommendations? We’ll be going over those in another blog post!

Career Opportunities

  • Head of Access and Delivery Services, University Library. Santa Clara University. Santa Clara, CA. Apply to this position via ALA JobList
  • Communities and Cultures Archivist. San Diego State University. San Diego, CA. Apply to this position via ALA JobList


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