What Is an Example of a Professional Reference? 10 Answers

What Is an Example of a Professional Reference? 10 Answers

What is one example of a professional reference?

To help you best determine who you could use as your professional reference, we asked CEOs and business leaders this question for their best insights. From a special vendor you do business with to your internship supervisor, there are several examples of people you have unique relationships with who could serve as your professional reference in most situations.

Here are 10 examples of professional references these leaders would count on:

  • A Special Vendor You Do Business With
  • A Former Manager
  • Your College or University Professor
  • A Mentor or Trusted Colleague
  • Your Coach
  • A Former Coworker
  • Your College Advisor
  • Clients You Have Strong Business Relationships With
  • A Volunteer Reference 
  • Your Internship Supervisor


A Special Vendor You Do Business With

While many people think of professional references as only being former managers or colleagues, don’t count out vendors. If you established a great working relationship with a vendor, ask them to be a reference for you. They can attest to your strengths and speak to what you’ve done for them personally. It’s a creative reference that might catch a hiring manager’s eye.

Melanie Edwards, Sr. E-commerce and Digital Product Manager, Olipop


A Former Manager

A letter of recommendation from a former manager is one good professional reference to have. This reference is very credible because a manager has firsthand experience working with you. Having a former manager write a letter of recommendation also goes to show that even though you no longer work for them, they’re still happy and willing to support your career growth. This reflects well on you because if you weren’t a good employee, the manager wouldn’t have written the recommendation. They can speak about the positive qualities you possess as an employee as well as share a bit about why they’re personally recommending you.

Mark Pierce, CEO, Cloud Peak Law Group


Your College or University Professor

A professional reference is someone who knows you well enough to discuss your work experience, habits, skills, and traits. Oftentimes, new professionals won’t have references from the workplace to rely on when they’re first starting out. Fortunately, there are other options available. If you’re a graduate from college or university, you’re likely to have good relationships with a handful of professors that taught you. Select one or two that relate to the industry you’re applying for, and respectfully request that they act as your professional reference. It’s important not to ask professors that you don’t know personally, even if they’re a perfect fit for what you’re applying for. They might feel uncomfortable voicing their support if they haven’t had time to get to know you. By only requesting references from professors who know you and your work style well, it ensures that they can speak on your talents honestly and in the utmost detail.

Andrew Gonzales, President, BusinessLoans.com


A Mentor or Trusted Colleague

One example of a professional reference is a trusted colleague or mentor. These individuals can be invaluable sources of support and advice, especially during times when you need help navigating difficult situations at work. Additionally, they may also be able to provide you with valuable recommendations that can help you advance in your career. Many employers value professional references from colleagues who have worked closely with you and can attest to your skills and abilities. If you are looking for a professional reference, it’s important to choose someone who is willing and able to provide concrete examples of how you have contributed in your role. This can help strengthen your candidacy and increase the likelihood of being hired for a new position. By building strong relationships with colleagues and developing a reputation for delivering high-quality work, you can increase the likelihood of being recommended as a professional reference by your network.

Amira Irfan, Founder and CEO, A Self Guru


Your Coach

One example of a professional reference that many people forget about is listing coaches. This is especially valuable for new graduates or young professionals that don’t have an established work history under their belt. Coaches have the ability to speak to a person’s work ethic, their desire to adapt, and take instruction. They can also relate to their athlete’s leadership ability, especially if that person was a captain or veteran on the team. If you continue to be competitive in sports after college and want to pursue a job in athletics, listing your coach as a reference can be a great way to highlight your continued involvement in athletics. Adults who compete recreationally, volunteer as a part of their alumni coaching staff, or are looking to pursue a career in the health and fitness realm can benefit from keeping their long-time coach as a professional reference.

Kyle Risley, CEO, Lift Vault


A Former Coworker

A former coworker who can speak to your individual abilities is the ideal professional reference. Where a boss can speak to one’s performance from their perspective, a colleague can speak to one’s teamwork skills and personality. Good teamwork is a must in any career. Plus, how you appeared to another employee in day-to-day life speaks volumes to one’s competency and credibility overall.

Kevin Callahan, Co-Founder & CEO, Flatline Van Co.


Your College Advisor

A college advisor is a great professional reference. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box professional reference, your college advisor is a great person to enlist because they’ll be able to speak to your passion, your dedication and your ability to learn and problem-solve. For instance, your college advisor will have seen you at your best and seen you at your worst. When you felt lost and changed majors and doubled up on classes so you could graduate on time – all this is great information for a potential employer to know. Your college advisor knows that you have worked in college to be in the position you are in now to potentially get your dream job. So when it comes to putting a professional reference who can speak to your passions and ability, your college advisor is a great resource!

Jimmy Minhas, Founder & CEO, GerdLi


Clients You Have Strong Business Relationships With

Clients make for great references. Not every business-client relationship is extensive enough to be appropriate as a reference, but a strong one can be invaluable. Clients are able to speak directly to your professionalism and job performance. They don’t have the personal biases that a colleague or professor can have, making them a reliable source of information. If you have a positive dynamic with an existing or former client, they can provide an ideal reference.

Brian Munce, Managing Director, Gestalt Brand Lab


A Volunteer Reference

Going above and beyond is becoming increasingly important for businesses, so having a candidate who turns in a volunteer reference along with their resume can serve as a big boost to their chances of landing a position. In this age of “quiet quitting”, finding a candidate who is willing to do more than what is required is critical, and studies have shown that having a volunteer reference can increase your chances of landing a position by over 25%, as it is attached to this quality. 

By having a reference from a charity or organization for which you volunteered, you showcase your willingness to contribute to a larger cause, your enthusiasm for giving back, and your commitment to others. It also demonstrates your willingness to put in whatever it takes to get the job done right. In providing a volunteer reference, you will touch on other qualities that may not be so obvious in a standard professional reference and in doing so, will separate yourself from the candidate pool.

Haley Wood, Founder, The Look


Your Internship Supervisor

An internship supervisor is the best reference when there isn’t much paid employment experience to draw from. If you had earned college credit or worked for little to no pay for a company, with whom did you best establish a great rapport? Perhaps you didn’t have the closest relationship with a direct supervisor, but someone else at the company can attest to your abilities. Request a professional reference from the person who you best trust to effusively speak to you as a worker and recommend you.

Monte Deere, CEO, Kizik


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