/Assets/cw/images/blog/2019During your job search, it's likely that a potential employer will ask you for a list of references. A good reference can make a big difference in whether you'll get a job offer because they offer an employer more insight about your technical and soft skills. Discover tips on how to choose and ask the right people to serve as your references!

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Lining Up Your References

Aug 7, 2019

man and woman in business attireEmployers often ask job applicants for references. A reference is someone who can vouch for you, whether it's confirming your professional experience or speaking about the personal attributes that make you a strong job candidate.

Because of the value employers place on what your references say about you, it's important that you choose them wisely. A good reference can make all the difference in whether you'll get that job offer. Today, we'll discuss the steps involved in obtaining and developing your reference list.

What are employers looking for in a reference?

When an employer contacts your references, they are really seeking information about you that will help them decide if you will be a good fit with their organization. They'll often be interested in learning about your work habits. For example, are you a team player, self-starter, or problem-solver? They will also ask questions about:

  • Your previous duties and responsibilities
  • Your accomplishments
  • Your dates of employment

Who makes a good reference?

Now that you know what an employer is looking for, you can make a decision about who you should choose to be your references. A good rule is to have at least 3 references. These do not belong on your resume. Rather, prepare a list with the names of your references and their contact information that you can take with you to an interview or send separately when asked by the potential employer.

Who you choose depends on your own work experience. For example, if you've had a job before, you can ask your past supervisor or manager to be a reference. They can confirm your work history and your ability to perform specific job tasks. A coworker that you've completed projects with can also speak to your abilities, experience and your teamwork skills.

If you're looking for your first job or just completed school or training, a teacher, advisor or instructor would be an appropriate choice. Similarly, a colleague with whom you did volunteer work could be a reference.

The important thing to consider is how well this person knows you and what they are likely to say about you. If you have any doubt that they will give a lukewarm or even a negative answer to any of the questions above, choose another person. You want your reference to be your enthusiastic supporter.

How to ask someone to be a reference

Once you've narrowed your list of possible references, there's still work to be done. You not only have to ask the person if they'll agree to be a reference for you, you also need to prepare them to be an effective voice for you. Take the time to follow these tips.

  • Get their permission. It can leave a bad impression with a potential employer if someone you've listed as a reference is caught off guard when they are
    • If you haven't been in contact with the person recently (such as a previous supervisor), consider a written request by letter or email. Otherwise, an in-person or telephone request is best.
  • Include details. If the person isn't familiar with your current job search, let them know what sort of work that you're looking for. Knowing what type of work you're interested in will help the person think about skills and experience you have that relate directly to that type of job when they are contacted by the employer.
  • Provide your latest resume. This gives your reference a fuller appreciation of your capabilities and also lets them know what the employer has seen.
  • Follow up and stay in touch. If you learn that the employer called your reference, you'll want to know how the conversation went. This will give you a sense of what the employer thinks is important and possibly more information on the skills and experiences for the position. Periodically, let your references know how your job search is going.
  • Say thanks. Once you receive a job offer, remember that the people you've asked to be references helped. Let them know that you've gotten a job. If they agreed to serve as a reference, they'll be excited for you! A written thank you note or a personal phone call will show your appreciation for the person's time and help.

About Ticket to Work

As you start thinking about who to ask to serve as a reference, a Ticket to Work (Ticket) Employment Network (EN) can help you brainstorm ideas. Social Security's Ticket program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work. ENs and other service providers, like State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, can offer you the supports and services you need to succeed on the path to financial independence through work.

The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward
financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

Learn More

To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

Learn More

To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967  (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

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