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Recruitment 101: How to Organise a Professional Reference

April 6, 2022 0 Comments

Asking for a professional reference when you’re applying for a job doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s how to do it.

After successfully jumping every hurdle – a great cv/resume, recruitment screening, first-round interview, second-round interview and maybe a walk through the business – as you round the bend, there is one last hurdle to sail over. Providing professional references.

While not every future employer will require this, you have to go into your job race knowing most will.

So, here’s how to go about ensuring that the last hurdle isn’t one you crash through and that you sail to the finish line and land that job!

What is a Professional Reference?

A professional reference is someone who can confirm your professional experience from an outside, objective perspective. And they need to be able to do this in a more detailed way than your CV illustrates or that you were able to get across during the recruitment process.

Importantly, they are not a personal reference, even if they inadvertently stray into some slightly more personal aspects of you when giving the professional reference. 

Types of Professional References

Depending on where you’re at in your career, professional references can come from a variety of sources, but in general there are four main types.

Former Employer

The main and most obvious is a former (and preferably recent) employer because they can provide important information to your prospective future employer about your work ethic, strengths (and weaknesses), and how you work both solo and as part of a team.


While this can also cross over into the “former employer” category, it’s slightly more nuanced in terms of someone being more directly involved in reporting lines.

However, it could also be less directly related to your work and either quite literally your postgraduate supervisor if you’ve just finished higher-level studies or someone who has supervised when you’ve been utilising your professional skills in another setting, such as volunteer work or an internship.

Current or Former Colleague

Because leaving a job can sometimes be a delicate manoeuvre, asking a supervisor, senior management, partner or business owner to be your professional reference might be tricky.

The next best thing (and even a good second reference if you need several) is a current or former colleague who has worked with you and can testify to how you go about it, your passion for your work and more general professional acumen.


If you’re a recent grad, reaching out to teaching staff to be a professional reference is definitely the way to go, especially for a job that is directly related to the course you took with them. 

While they may not be able to talk about practical skills, they can still talk about your ability to focus, theoretical knowledge, grades and how you work with a team.

Gorilla Jobs Blog How to organise professional references Man in suit talking on the phone at work


Photo by Antoni Shkraba on Pexels

How to Choose your Professional Reference

The main factor to consider when choosing your professional reference is where you are in your career. 

As a recent graduate, choosing former teaching staff is the way to go, although you should still dig up a work reference as well. The latter might not be from a job directly related to the role/industry you’re applying for but rather from a part-time job you did while studying, which is totally acceptable because they can still speak to your broader soft skills and work ethic.

If you aren’t a recent grad, your first reference should be a former employer or supervisor. However, as mentioned above, if there is some delicacy around you leaving your current role, or if the role you’re applying to is more connected to a less-recent role you’ve filled, asking a less-recent employer or a recent colleague (rather than a direct report) is entirely acceptable.

How to Ask for a Professional Reference

Once you’ve worked out who you want, it’s critical you formally ask them – never ambush someone by giving their details to a recruiter or future employer without them knowing!

We recommend that you:

  1. Ask them before you apply for the job to give them time to consider the request and prepare. This can be by email or phone depending on your relationship with them and how busy their professional life is, and should be done in a way that they feel no pressure to say yes. And, if they say no, for whatever reason, don’t be hard on yourself or them – far better they say no than go through offering the professional reference with gritted teeth. For example, some ways to approach it:
    • Do you feel comfortable giving me a reference?
    • Do you think you know my work well enough to provide me with a reference?
    • Do you feel you could give me a positive reference?

  1. Have a quick chat to let them know where you’re at now with your career, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve had contact.
  2. Get your most up-to-date CV and the position description to them, and, as you progress through the recruitment process, any other information that might be useful to them when they are asked for the professional reference.
  3. Confirm their contact information and availability – not much point putting someone forward who is about to head hiking without mobile coverage or Wi-Fi for two weeks!

Gorilla Jobs Can Help You

We love what we do at Gorilla Jobs, and while there are challenges, we are always ready to help you as a candidate or recruiting organisation to ensure the best talent ends up in the best jobs. Reach out to us today if you have any questions!