How to Choose A Professional Reference for A Job

By Melissa Coutts February 04, 2021 | Posted in Our Blog

By Melissa Coutts February 04, 2021

An independent, 3rd party endorsement of your capabilities and personality type in the form of a professional reference could make all the difference to you securing that new job in Darlington or the North East.

Read on to learn more about how to choose the best and most appropriate professional reference…

What is a professional reference?

Do you remember that manager or co-worker who really encouraged you and gave you confidence that you were good at your job? They were nice, weren’t they?

And they’d probably be willing to ‘talk you up’ to a potential future employer to help you secure that new job in Darlington or the North East you’ve gone for.


Your professional reference can tell the person recruiting for the role about the applicable skills you have, your great ‘can do’ attitude and how you make a smashing cup of tea (ok, that last one probably isn’t so relevant… or maybe it is?!).

This endorsement will come in the form of an email, letter or even a phone call between your prospective employer and the person you’ve chosen as your professional reference.

How does a professional reference differ from a personal reference?

OK, so while a professional reference is an endorsement of your skills and suitability for a job from someone you’ve worked for or with, a ‘personal reference’ is about what you’re like as a person outside of work.

It’s lovely that your mate Sarah is keen to tell anyone how much fun you are on a night out (remember those?!). But it’s just not what employers in Darlington or elsewhere are looking for, sadly.

They want to know if you’ve got the requisite capabilities and attitude to perform a specific job – which is why they ask previous specified employers or colleagues about you rather than your mam or your mates.

The same goes for a former colleague that you used to have a great laugh with. Sure, it’s great that you’ve got a wicked sense of humour. But your future employer won’t be interested in a reference from a lad that worked in a completely different department.


Who to use as a professional reference

You’ll find that nearly every potential employer asks for professional references.

And although some may not actually contact the reference you’ve chosen in the end (sometimes they’ll just check on LinkedIn or elsewhere to see if you did actually work together), you’ll be surprised how many do.

With competition for jobs being so fierce, the recruiter or HR Officer will want to make sure that you really are the right person for the role.

While it’s tempting to put down the high-powered CEO of the big company you temped for in Darlington or Middlesbrough a couple of years ago as a reference because of the prestige, did they really know you?

Even if they’re nice enough to give a thumbs-up to the recruiter, do they know what your skills are and how much work you actually put in during that short stint of time? Sorry, but they won’t – and that means that they’re not really believable or valuable as a reference.

What you really want is a professional reference that can genuinely confirm or even expand on the great things you wrote about yourself in your CV or cover letter.

The right professional reference will be able to back up your achievements, highlight that project you helped smash, and tell your prospective future line manager what a good team player you are. The reference they give will feel robust, authentic and authoritative – and really could prove the difference between you and those other candidates vying for the position.

Former Clients and People You Managed

Hey, you don’t always need to have a former supervisor or line manager as your professional reference.

If the new role you’re going for requests two references, maybe your other could perhaps be a previous customer or person you managed?

A previous customer could provide excellent insight into how well you did in keeping them happy. Someone you managed could offer a snapshot of how much you helped them develop in their own professional career. Either would reflect on you very well in the eyes of a would-be employer.

How to secure a good professional reference

It can feel a bit cheeky asking a former colleague out of the blue to give you a solid reference. And they might think so too. Fancy asking for a favour after all these years of minimal contact? I’m sure you’d feel the same way too.

So, you’ve got to be a bit strategic and keep your potential professional references ‘warmed up’.


Not in a creepy, insincere, toady toady “Ooh aren’t we best pals” (even though you both know you’re not) sort of way. More like in an ‘occasionally commenting on their LinkedIn posts’ or ‘dropping them a friendly email now and then to see how they’re doing’ sort of way.

That way, it won’t seem so cold and presumptuous when you come to send them that email to ask if they wouldn’t mind providing a reference for the job in Darlington or the North East you’ve applied for.

And, when it comes to that big email, be sure to ask how they are. Maybe drop in that you were pleased to see that they’ve been promoted or congratulate them on securing a new job elsewhere. But don’t fall into the temptation of criticising your former employer or former colleagues (it’s not a good look, and they may feel reluctant to give you a professional reference if they feel you’ve got a poor attitude).

Be casual, not pushy. Be friendly and respectful, not churlish and rude. Basically, just be nice and genuine. ‘Keep it real’, as the cool kids used to say.

In Conclusion - That Great Professional Reference Could Make All The Difference

Give it some real thought before you put someone down as a professional reference in your application for a job in Darlington, the North East or elsewhere.

Does that person have your best interests at heart? Do they really know you? Would they be happy to champion you and your abilities? Would their reference feel authentic and add value?

In what is an increasingly competitive job market in Darlington and the North East, it’s really important for recruiters and HR teams to know for sure that you’re the best fit for the job – and the professional reference you choose could be the factor that persuades them that you are.

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