What Is A Professional Reference? Here’s Why + How To Land Them

Remote Job Hunting

What is a professional reference? Only the best-kept secret to proving your value to employers and landing your perfect remote job! Here’s how:

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You spent hours perfecting your remote resume and cover letter. You even crushed your remote interview. But now there’s one final hurdle to jump before landing your dream role: your professional references.

What is a professional reference? Think of them as your professional hype squad, eager to sing your praises to potential employers.

Choosing the right references can help you solidify the impression you made during the hiring process. They can convince hiring teams that you’re the best candidate for the role. And they’ll give you a major advantage when landing a remote job without experience.

So let’s unpack what professional references are, why remote companies value them, and how to pick a winning lineup. Then, you’ll learn how to showcase your references like a pro and politely ask someone to vouch for your awesomeness.

Let’s dive in!

What is a Professional Reference?

A professional reference is someone who can verify your skills, work ethic, and overall strengths based on their experience working or collaborating with you

Imagine you’re applying for a remote programmer job. A professional reference could be a former employee who witnessed your coding magic firsthand, a client who marveled at your ability to build a stunning app for their brand, or even a coding bootcamp instructor who saw your potential blossom.

All these references can attest to your specific accomplishments, how you tackled challenges, and why you’d be a fantastic fit for any remote team.

Why Do Employers Ask for Professional References?

While dazzling resumes and cover letters are great, they only paint a self-portrait. References offer a real-life perspective and provide a well-rounded picture of who you are as a remote worker.

They’ve seen your brilliance in action — which is especially crucial for remote hiring teams. Companies rarely have the chance to meet candidates in person during the hiring process. So they must rely on the behind-the-scenes peek your references deliver.

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Here’s a rundown of what remote employers are ultimately hoping to learn from your references:

  • Whether you have the goods you say you do. Your references can confirm the experiences, achievements, and skills listed on your resume, cover letter, and application.
  • Whether you’re a conscientious team player. Did you play well with others in your past roles? Did you communicate clearly and collaborate effectively with colleagues across different locations? 
  • Whether you can thrive in remote work environments. Are you a go-getter who consistently delivers high-quality work with little supervision? How’s your self-discipline and time management? Do you know how to work asynchronously?
  • Whether you’re a cultural fit. How would your references describe you? Would your personality, outlook, attitude, values, and work style mesh well and align with the company culture

By scoring a thumbs-up from your references, you’re giving your viability as a candidate a significant boost in credibility. Remote employers want to hire people other professionals wholeheartedly recommend.

So now that you know the benefits of professional references, let's talk about:

How To Choose Professional References

Here’s what you should keep in mind when selecting professional references who will champion your triumphs:

Relevancy is King
Match your references to the specific roles you’re applying for. Your references should understand the position's requirements and how your skills and experience make you an ideal candidate. 

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For example, if you’re searching for a remote marketing role, a reference from your previous marketing manager would hold more weight than one from your college math professor. Similarly, if you aced customer service when working in retail, a coworker or supervisor could verify that you’d make the best remote support specialist

Leverage the Relationships In Your Network
Ideally, your references should be people you’ve worked with closely, know your professional endeavors, and can confidently speak about your strengths and accomplishments. That’s why building your professional network remotely is so essential.

Peruse your network connections for (or consider adding) professional reference examples like: 

  • Former employers and supervisors. They’ve seen you in action and can speak to your day-to-day work ethic, proficiencies, and commitment to career growth.
  • Clients, coworkers, and collaborators. If you’ve worked with clients remotely, they can rave about your communication, problem-solving skills, and ability to deliver timely results. Collaborators and coworkers can attest to your teamwork, accountability, inclusivity, and more. 
  • Professors and instructors. Recent grads or those changing remote career paths benefit immensely from educational references and those involved in remote internship programs. They can highlight your academic achievements and certifications, desire to learn, eagerness, and untapped potential. 

Aim for a Mix of Quality Over Quantity
It’s best to keep a few references on hand so you can tailor your choices to the specific jobs you’re applying for (just like you tailor your resumes for each role). 

Strive for a diverse group that includes former managers, colleagues, passion project collaborators, and even satisfied clients (if applicable) to spotlight your well-rounded skill set. References from different stages of your career also demonstrate your growth and adaptability.

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A general rule of thumb? Choose references who you’ve worked with in the last five years. But it’s okay to stray outside this timeline if you have an enthusiastic, eager reference who will give you a glowing referral. 

Two or three strong references are always better than a long list of lukewarm ones!

Know Where To Feature Your Stellar References
Adding the phrase “References available upon request” to your resume is poor etiquette. However, you can still feature and seamlessly integrate positive endorsements from your references across your digital presence.

The best places to do so include your:

LinkedIn Recommendations
A LinkedIn recommendation is a commendation written by a LinkedIn member to recognize your professional wins and attributes. You can request recommendations from your 1st-degree connections you currently work with or have worked with/collaborated with.

Check out this LinkedIn guide to politely requesting recommendations here.

LinkedIn recommendations are the gold standard when it comes to sharing positive feedback from colleagues and former employers. These short testimonials can be a powerful way to boost your credibility, affirm your relevant skills, and pique the interest of hiring teams.

Your Website and Professional Portfolio
Adding testimonials and professional referrals to your website or remote job portfolio is one of the best ways to build your personal brand and skyrocket your career.

These recommendations and rave reviews from satisfied clients, collaborators, and colleagues who have benefitted from your skills add social proof to strengthen your online presence and help you stand out as a top candidate.

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Your website/portfolio and these compelling endorsements make a fantastic way to let your work and candidate viability speak for themselves.

✨  Read next: Remote Personal Branding: Establishing Your Online Presence for Remote Success.

How To Ask for a Professional Reference
Always ask permission before listing someone as a reference
. It’s courteous to give them a heads-up and ensure they’re comfortable talking about you to potential employers. 

Nervous about getting rejected? Follow these tips to sway their answer in your favor:

  • Be clear, concise, and specific. Don’t send generic reference requests — that’s a surefire way to insult your connections. Instead, compliment and show them why they’re your first choice. Let them know you’re applying for a specific position and explain why they’d be an excellent reference.
  • Refresh their memory. Briefly remind them of your time working together and the skills you want them to highlight. Describe the biggest lesson they taught you and how you’ve applied that to your career wins ever since.
  • Do your homework. Provide references with the latest copy of your resume and a copy of the job ad to which you’re applying. This will give them a better idea of what hiring teams are looking for and how they can help.
  • Express your gratitude. Thank them for their time and willingness to vouch for you. Briefly mention what landing this role will mean for you and your career to show you’re serious about this job and appreciate their help.

Let’s see how all those pieces fit together in a reference request example!

Use This Professional Reference Request Template

Adapt this template to make your reference request as easy, smooth, and professional as possible:

Subject: Reference Request - [Your Name] - [Job Title]

Hi [Reference Name],

Hope you’re doing well!

I’m reaching out because I’m currently applying for the [Job Title] role at [Company Name], and I was wondering if you’d be willing to be a professional reference for me.

I truly valued your guidance and support while we worked together at [Previous Company Name], especially on projects like [Mention a specific project or accomplishment]. Your insights into my [Skills relevant to the reference request] would be incredibly valuable to potential employers.

Of course, I’d be happy to provide you with a copy of my resume, the job ad, and any specific details about the company I’m applying for, so you feel comfortable answering any questions that might come up.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration! Landing this role would be a significant step up in my career and a chance to build upon the work we achieved together.

Best regards,
[Your Name]

Pro Tip: Don’t Ghost Your References  👻

While gathering a list of potential references during your remote job search is wise, employers typically contact them after your first or second interview. 

So, if these go well and a recruiter or hiring team asks for them, send your references a quick message to let them know they may receive a call soon. This will give them time to prepare and organize their thoughts rather than being caught off guard.

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Always follow up with a thank-you email after your reference agrees to vouch for you. It’s a nice gesture that shows your appreciation for their time and support. 

Keep them updated throughout the process, and let them know if you land the job. Consider sending them a small gift if you do.

PS: If you’re asking colleagues to be one of your references, you should be willing to do the same for them.

Don’t Go It Alone: Build Your Reference Dream Team!  🙌  

Professional references are powerful assets in any remote job search. By strategically choosing yours and leveraging their endorsements across your online presence, you can transform references from a hurdle into a launch pad to land your dream role.

So get out there, connect with your network, and build a diverse list of references that underscores your unique skill set and value to remote employers!

👀 Looking for more remote job search tips? Read this next: How To Get a Remote Job in 2024: The Ultimate Guide.

🚀 Want to level up your remote job search? These 5 reasons prove why you should upgrade your basic We Work Remotely job seeker account to a Pro Job Seeker account today!

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