How to Select the Best Professional References for You

When a potential employer asks for a list of professional references, you know things are getting serious. It’s important to choose people who can speak to your professional skills and accomplishments, as you want them to have plenty of specific examples to offer up. The people you select to speak on your behalf can make or break your chances of getting the job, so you need to choose wisely.


It’s a given that your family and friends will sing your praises, but including people on the list that you have a deeply personal relationship with will not impress the hiring manager. Stick to those where your affiliation is strictly business and when possible, try to focus on connections you’ve worked with more recently, as digging too deep in your history may raise red flags. Find out which people in your network make the best professional references and ask them to vouch for you.


In most cases, your current manager isn’t the best choice — for obvious reasons — so ask a former supervisor to join your reference list. Managers hold a lot of weight, because they have intimate knowledge of your skills, accomplishments and work ethic, and can offer actual details on what it’s like to be your boss. Of course, it goes without saying that you only want someone you trust to speak to a potential employer, so if you don’t have a great relationship with any former bosses, don’t feel like you need to include them.


Someone you’ve sat next to for years, partnered with on projects, helped out when their workload became unmanageable, and celebrated your accomplishments with knows the type of employee you are and what you’re capable of achieving. Many people put on a show in front of the boss, but behave a different way when management isn’t looking, so a winning testimonial from a peer can go a long way. This person can be someone from your past or present, but don’t choose the latter unless you’re absolutely certain they can keep your potential move quiet, as you don’t want to jeopardize your current job.


If you don’t have much professional experience — or if you recently completed graduate school — a former teacher is a great reference choice, because they’ve seen your work firsthand. Going to school is a job in itself, as you’re required to show up on time, frequently submit assignments, and work well with others. A teacher spends hours observing how you interact with your peers in class, grading your coursework, and working with you during office hours, so they are more than equipped to discuss your qualifications for a specific position.

Competition for the very best jobs can be intense, so you need a partner to help guide you through the process. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you find your next behavioral health position, contact us today at (513) 651-9500 or by email at

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