8 Types of Professional References to Help You Get Hired

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Over the years, we’ve heard countless challenges and concerns when it comes to providing references during the job search process.  One of the major struggles around the reference process is the first rebuttal/challenge below, i.e. “I feel bad…” mentality.

“I don’t want to bother people by asking them to be a reference.”
“I haven’t talked to my last Manager in a year. I don’t feel comfortable reaching out to him/her to be a reference.”
“I’ve been at the same company for 10 years and they don’t know I’m considering other opportunities, so I don’t have any references to provide.”
“I want to transition into a different type of role, so I don’t have any relevant references to provide.”
“I’m not sure who to exactly to put as a reference.”

Another major challenge is not staying in contact with your best and most relevant career references and then leveraging them accordingly during your job search. 


Identifying quality references and then making “the ask” of a potential reference causes many job seekers anxiety.  A response or mentality of “I feel bad asking” or “they’re so busy, I don’t want to bother them” is one we hear more often than either of us ever expected.  What you need to tell yourself is simply, “Don’t feel bad!  I did good work for them, and they’d want to help me by taking 5 minutes to act as a reference.”  So, first adjust that “I’m nervous/scared/feel bad to ask” mentality. 

Second, think through who could be a strong reference for the positions you’re now pursuing.  With that in mind, here are the 8 key groups or types of people that could be a potential reference.

8 Types of Individuals Who’d Make a Great Reference

People you have trained, mentored, and/or managed

This is one of the most overlooked types of references.  Think about the great people you have work for or been mentored by.  Would you mind if they asked you for a reference?  Likely not, and in most cases, you would be more than happy to!  Having an inspiring, trusted boss / mentor / trainer can be hard to come by, and we know we always want to show appreciation for those that have made a difference in our professional lives.  It is great to provide a reference of someone you have overseen in a leadership capacity, especially if you are pursuing/interviewing for a leadership role.

Past/Current Manager

You always want to try and provide at least one reference who has directly managed you.  What do you do if you have not spoken to them in a while?  Do not fret!  Do not shy away from reaching back out to them when you start a new job search.  We have had employees we managed years ago reach out to us for professional references and we have never turned them down!  Keep in mind that even though some time has lapsed, if you made valuable contributions and had a great working relationship with them, they will likely remember and be happy to assist you in your job search.

  • BEST PRACTICE - If you get in the habit of asking for a LinkedIn recommendation in real-time, you will always have access to those and can provide them on the spot! 

Director or another IT Executive

Have you worked closely with a higher up on a group/company initiative, steering committee, etc.?  Ask them if they would write you a brief recommendation, which will likely highlight the impact you made to the group/company as a whole through this effort!


Individuals you have worked alongside might be the best references when speaking to qualities like work ethic, problem-solving, teamwork/team-oriented, communication, being helpful/supportive, and other positive soft skill traits that any future Manager would admire! Think through the individuals you have worked the most closely with and ask 2+ if they would be a reference and/or write you a LinkedIn recommendation.


Who has helped shape and develop you in your career?  Often times, you have mentors outside of your direct Manager(s).  If you have worked with them closely and they either have seen examples of your work or could speak to soft traits/leadership qualities, solicit them as a reference. 

End Client/Customer

You may often be building, enhancing, fixing, etc. projects/applications or other solutions to help another group/team in your organization or for an end client.  Ask yourself “who has benefitted from my work/efforts?” and then ask them if they would act as reference and/or write you a brief LinkedIn recommendation.  If it is an external vendor/end client, do your due diligence to ensure you are able to make that request (i.e. it is against company policy or is not crossing a line).  


Are you an entry-level professional and/or a recent graduate?  Professors are a powerful reference, especially if you completed large projects or held an internship.  Target the professors of the courses you took where you’re seeking jobs in that discipline (i.e. any Professors or Internship Mentors of Database, Programming or Data Science courses if you’re pursuing that path).  

Community Contact

Are you involved in a local tech MeetUp/User Group?  Have you contributed to the group at all (i.e. given a presentation, volunteered at an event, acted on the committee, etc.)?  Have you gone to, and contributed, to a SQL Saturday, Code Camp, local Hackathon/Codeathon, or another local/regional tech conference or Tech4Good event?  Have you helped a nonprofit with a technology issue/project or general advice/consultation?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask the leader of the user group, an individual that sat through your presentation, or the nonprofit you helped solve an issue for, to write you a LinkedIn recommendation and/or be a future reference.

Examples of Quality Community References

  • One of our candidates does the systems administration and technical support for her child’s elementary school.  Once we identified this, we encouraged her to add that pro bono work to a ‘Community Involvement & Volunteer Experience’ section of her resume and to get a LinkedIn recommendation from an Assistant Principal. 
  • A Lead Database Developer presents at one SQL Server User Group meeting a year and has done this for the last 4-5 years.  We encouraged him to add that to his resume, upload a relevant presentation to his LinkedIn profile, and get a LinkedIn recommendation from the User Group Organizer.
  • One of our Developers has participated in his local city Hackathon for the last 4 years, so we suggested he add that to his resume with the projects/applications he worked on and the technologies he worked with.
Next Steps
  • Requesting references/recommendations may seem daunting at first but always remember that the majority of people out there are more than willing to assist!  Never shy away from simply asking “would you act as a professional reference?” 
  • During your next job search, simply review the 8 types of references we’ve outlined above, and jot down a list of relevant individuals you could solicit for a recommendation or ask to be a reference. 
  • Remember, focus on building a reference list that’d be relevant (i.e. best speak to) the types of positions you’re now pursuing!

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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