8 Professional References To Include For Your First Job

Imagine you are 16 again. What professional reference should you include in an employment application for your first job?

To help applicants looking for their first job, we asked business leaders and HR professionals this question for their best topics. From sporting coaches to club sponsors, there are several potential references for job candidates looking to find professional references to list on their resume.

Here are eight possible potential references to list on your resume:

  • Sports Coach
  • School Guidance Counselor
  • Community or Volunteer Leaders
  • Teachers
  • Figures Who Oversee Group Activity
  • Club Sponsors
  • Any Adult (Not Related to You) That Knows Your Work Ethic
  • Anyone You Can Get a Hold Of

Sports Coach

At age 16 I had little to no “work-experience,” let alone any experience for that matter, but I did spend a lot of my time playing sports. Although we tend to look over sports as professional development, it’s important to acknowledge all of the things sports can do for you. Not only is it experience in teamwork, but you develop soft skills like collaboration, accountability, work ethic, and much more. Having a coach who means a lot to you or that has seen you grow into this role can be a great reference to put down on a resume. 

Alexis Orth, Markitors

School Guidance Counselor

Ask your school’s guidance counselor to be your reference. Other education connections can help too, like a teacher or principal, but the guidance counselor’s job is to know you and help you develop. I recommend talking to the counselor first, to make sure they are willing to provide the reference. Then, include the counselor’s name, email, and phone number in your applications.

Michael Alexis, Teambuilding

Community or Volunteer Leaders

By age 16, many have already done volunteer work or work through their religious institutions or other groups in which they may take part. Sometimes, they have led a group or club at school or been involved in student government. Having a reference from one of these sources can speak very appropriately to skills that might be helpful on the job, such as reliability, ability to follow directions, ability to work effectively with others, leadership, etc. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask leaders for these types of references, as employers will probably find them compelling and helpful in speaking to your qualifications.

Colleen McManus, Senior HR Executive and Consultant


A reference at this age is likely going to be a character reference so try and find someone that you interact with often and that isn’t a family member. A teacher is a great option as they can both speak to your reliability, work effort, and overall attitude.

Quincy Smith, ESL Authority

Figures Who Oversee Group Activity

It may depend on the job, but as a general rule focus on authority figures that oversee some sort of group activity where collaboration happens. Showing a prospective employer that you play well with others is invaluable. Focus on sports with multiple players, like basketball and volleyball, band and orchestra where you compete for chairs and have to cooperate in order to make music or even highlight Scouts where success can only be achieved as a group working together.

Joel Cheesman, Poach

Club Sponsors

Club sponsors can speak to their loyalty, leadership skills, and responsibility (such as time management). Since club sponsors are usually teachers, they can speak to the quality of your work and your desire to learn. Are you a student who completes the minimum requirements, or are you constantly asking questions and going deeper with given projects? Who you are in school and out of school should be able to give a good picture of who you will be as a worker.

Alison Pearson, Hal Waldman and Associates

Any Adult (Not Related to You) That Knows Your Work Ethic

My first job was at a family-owned frozen yogurt shop that I could walk to from my childhood house. When I got that job, I remember putting my sewing teacher (yes, sewing!) as a reference. My advice to any teenager that is attempting to land their first job is to list any adult that is not related to you, that knows your work ethic, to be listed as a professional reference. Be creative! 

Alisha Taylor, Alisha Taylor Interiors

Anyone You Can Get a Hold Of

16 is quite a young age to have any experience under the belt. Reference should come from someone who has enough interactions with you in order to give the fairest evaluation possible. For me, it should come from my secondary teachers or a project leader in the school who has led me before in a project. The fact that you have some reference at all at 16 is a major feat to begin with.

Jill Sandy, Constant Delights


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