4 Types Of People To List As A Job Reference

Whether you’re applying to a part-time job, an internship or a post-grad career (#adulting), filling out applications is exhausting. You put in so much work into perfecting your resume, writing an amazing cover letter and acing your interview, but one thing is out of your hands—your references. Or is it? Many jobs ask for a letter of recommendation and sometimes even contact information to call the recommender and verify the information on your resume. As a college student who hasn’t made a ton of connections in the workplace quite yet, it may be hard to know who exactly you should list as a reference. But don’t worry—it isn’t quite as scary as it sounds. Here are four types of people you should consider when you list a reference.

1. Someone who knows you well

When brainstorming a list of references, you don’t have to look too far outside your inner circle.

Dr. Jaime Balboa, assistant vice provost and senior venture consultant at Startup UCLA, says that “you want someone who can speak with specific insight about your accomplishments and characteristics. Find someone who can vouch for you firsthand.” It’s helpful to think about your application through the eyes of your potential employer. If the person giving the recommendation knows you well, then they will be more trustworthy and the recommendation will be more meaningful.

“I try to use people who I have worked with or known for at least a year,” says Emily Schmidt, a sophomore at Stanford University. “Having a strong and positive relationship is important because they can write about your growth over a longer period of time.”

If the reference comes off as sounding like a fill-in-the-blank, that’s not good—and that’s exactly what it will sound like unless your recommender has personal anecdotes and in-depth insight about you.

2. Someone with authority in the field

Again, look at the reference through the eyes of your employer. Say you’re applying for a research job at a lab. It’s great if your former Forever 21 manager can testify to your work ethic, but it’s even better if you can get a reference from your accomplished professor at the lab where you worked all of undergrad. The potential employer is more likely to trust the professor’s reference because of their credentials, whereas they may take the reference from your Forever 21 manager with a grain of salt.

Dr. Balboa says that “employers will want to hear from someone in a position to evaluate you in a professional setting, and even better if they can speak to your ability to succeed in the specific professional setting you’re looking to join. Law firms are different from tech startups with are different from nonprofits, for example.”

In the above example, your potential employer has no way of knowing if your work ethic at Forever 21 will translate to requirements for working in a lab, but your undergraduate lab work and experiences directly carry over.

3. Someone who respects your character

If you don’t have any specific experience that will apply directly to the job you want, then you need someone who can advocate for your character. This is important, because work ethic and willingness to learn are everything in the career world and can sometimes even make up for a lack of hard skills.

“As a collegiate athlete, I would list my current coach as a reference,” says Amanda Goecke, a senior at Carthage College. “They can truly speak to my character in terms of hard work, dedication and leadership outside of the classroom.”

Tygre, a sophomore at Loyola University, agrees: “I've used the president of my service club a lot of times, as I think he knows me better than adults I've worked for. I find it can be useful to have not only adult professionals, but also people that know you better and can speak about your character.”

Think of it this way: if you can imagine someone absolutely gushing about you to the future employer, then that’s someone you want advocating for you as a reference.

4. Anyone willing to vouch for you

When it comes down to it, we all have people in our lives who can speak to our skills and work ethic. You really just need to consider who would do the most convincing job. Who’s the most articulate, persuasive person who could convince an employer that you’re the one they should hire?

“Former bosses are great job references,” Rachel Petty, a recent grad of James Madison University, says. “If you don’t have previous work experience, professors can be awesome too.” If you needed another reason to go to office hours, here it is!

Samantha, a recent grad of Siena College, has also used a variety of references. “I used my then-current manager, my hiring manager, my zone manager at Walmart, and the technical director of my college, who was my boss in the scene shop building theater sets.”

Your employers just want to know that you’ll be an asset to their company, so find someone who can convince them that you will. Dr. Balboa adds that this applies to college applications as well: “When applying for college or grad school, references who can speak to the likelihood of your continued academic success are essential.”

Applying for jobs can be fun if you let it be! The people you list as your reference want to brag about you, so use this time to be proud of the connections you’ve made and the hard work that’s gotten you to where you are.