What Is The Purpose of References?


what is the purpose of references

Professional references are something that you frequently need to provide as a part of a job application and interview process.

But why do you actually need to provide them? And what is the purpose of references? This article aims to answer that question, along with other related questions around professional references.

What is a Reference for a Job?

As we define in the how many references should you have article, a job reference is someone that can speak to your professional skills as background in a job hiring process. 

Ideally, your job reference would be somebody that you have worked closely with in a professional capacity in the past that can speak to relevant skills required for the job to which you’re applying.

Often, you will be asked to supply contact information for job references with your initial application, or once you have completed all of your interviews. The employer will then call those references with a set of questions about your experience and background for the job prior to making an offer.

What Does “Professional Reference” Mean?

If you come across the term “professional reference,” it typically means that the company is looking for you to provide references that have worked with you in a job capacity. 

By calling out “professional references” specifically, that means that the company is not interested in references from your personal life, even if they would speak highly of you. People that would not be considered to be professional references would be the following:

  • Personal friends
  • Family members

In general, a company will request three professional references for a job application. With that being the case, you’ll want to have three – five people that you can leverage as professional references if needed.

Who Can Be a Professional Reference?

professional reference

Professional references can be anyone that has worked with you in a relevant job capacity before. 

Any of the following types of professional associates could be candidates for a professional reference:

  • Managers
  • Colleagues
  • People that worked for you

What Is the Purpose of References?

The purpose of professional references is to provide an independent source to speak to your qualifications and capabilities for the job to which you’re applying.

As a hiring manager, I’ve found professional references to be important and valuable in vetting a candidate. They provide additional perspective on a candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential fit for a role.

References have helped me feel confident in making a job offer to a candidate. In some case, though, if you have a bad reference, they could cost you a job so be careful and intentional about who you select.

Are Professional References Necessary?

Yes, I do believe professional references are necessary. As a hiring manager, I’ve found professional references to be quite helpful in getting independent stories and perspectives about a candidate.

They’ve helped me make a decision to move forward on an offer with a candidate. I’ve also had previous bosses who have opted not to make a hire, based upon information that they got from checking a person’s professional references. My point is that professional references are helpful and important sources in the applicant vetting process.

What Should a Professional Reference Say?

A good professional reference is someone that is open and willing to speak positively about your qualifications for a position. They have stories that they can share that would help to paint you as a positive candidate for a particular position.

Ideally, a good professional reference would answer all of the interviewers questions honestly and truthfully. And they would do so by sharing relevant and positive stories and information about you that help inspire confidence that you could do the job well.

The below video from Scott D. Clary reviews common reference check questions to help you think about good candidates that would do a good job of responding to those questions on your behalf:


It may feel frustrating to have to provide professional references as a part of a job application. But they play an important role in the process of vetting an applicant. And if you provide the right references, they can help inspire confidence that you are the right candidate for a job.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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