Almost every interview process requires professional references, but people are often caught off guard when an employer asks for them. These references are a list of people who are able to speak to your strengths, achievements and qualifications for a potential job. A study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), found that nearly 90 percent of employers confirmed they checked professional references as a final stage in the hiring process. This means references can be the difference between receiving an offer or not. Clearly, building a strong list of professional references is important, so when creating yours, remember these tips: Don’t wait, keep in touch and reach out before a potential employer does. 

Don’t wait. 

Creating a solid reference list requires time. When a potential employer asks for references, it’s usually towards the end of the interview process, and they’re likely contemplating extending an offer. If you haven’t gathered your references prior to an employer asking for them, this can create a big hold up in the interview process. It may even put you behind the competition!

What is the key to combating this delay? Start early. Before you begin your job search, think about people who you’d like to use as references. Choose people who know you well, can explain your professional background and would be inclined to speak well on your behalf. These people should be people that know you in a professional setting, like work or volunteering, but not a social one. Former supervisors, clients, teachers, or work colleagues are all great options. Make sure to choose at least one person who acted as a manager, as your potential future employer will most likely want to speak with them about past performance! 

Keep in touch. 

This one takes some extra time and effort. If you’ve built a strong relationship with a manager, coworker or client while working with them, they would probably make a great professional reference. However, if you haven’t spoken to that person since you last worked with them years ago, they probably won’t be able to speak very well on your behalf. No one wants to feel like they’re only on your mind when you need something, either! That’s why it’s important to keep in touch with your professional references. Consider calling or emailing them them to check in periodically. You can also ask them to meet for lunch or coffee every few months to just catch up. If distance prevents you from seeing someone or they are hard to keep in contact with, stay connected via social media! Reach out on a professional platform like LinkedIn and engage with what they’re posting and commenting on. All of these things keep your relationship strong and ensure that your professional references will be able to talk about the person that you are now and not just who you were a few years ago. 

Reach out before the employer does. 

This is perhaps the most important part of building a strong list of professional references. Not only do you need to stay in touch with professional references, but you also need to contact them before any employer does. Any time you are considering giving a potential employer someone’s contact information to act as a reference, you need to reach out to them first. Ask permission to use them as a professional reference. You want to make sure they’re comfortable speaking on your behalf. Next, ask if you can share their contact information with the potential employer. If they say yes, great! Continue the conversation by explaining the position that you’re applying for, the job description and why you’d be a good fit. This will help your references give the employer more information that’s relevant to the position you’re applying for. 

Getting in touch with your network before an employer does prevents a potential reference from being caught off guard. This should be an opportunity to deepen a professional relationship. However, if a person isn’t aware that you’ve listed them as a reference, it could end up souring that connection. Even worse, they could unintentionally give a poor reference due to not having any information on the position or company you are interviewing for. 

Last but not least, make sure to thank your references! These individuals are going out of their way to support your career, so make sure that your references know that you appreciate them and their time and effort. 

Building a strong list of professional references is easier than you think! Starting early, keeping in touch and reaching out before a potential employer does will help you build a solid network of people who are able to speak on your behalf. 

Ready to give your professional references a reason to advocate for your job experience? Visit to view our open opportunities and apply!