10 Sources for the Best Professional Recommendations

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Many concepts in today's job search have changed and evolved, including the area of references. When we first started in the staffing industry in 2005, "can you send me 2 to 3 professional references?" was a common question we asked the candidates/job seekers we were working with, and also a common question our clients (Technology hiring managers) asked as part of their screening process. Now that question and request isn't as common, but providing a different format of references, i.e. LinkedIn recommendations or other testimonials of your work, should be an extremely important part of a job seekers checklist!


It is a very competitive candidate pool, and a question you should be constantly asking yourself is "what else can I provide in addition to my resume that will positively set me apart from other candidates/interviewees?" One of the items to include in this "candidate marketing portfolio" is strong LinkedIn recommendations which you should view as powerful testimonials of your skills! You can also collect recommendations to post via your personal website, portfolio or add to an infographic version of your resume if you have one (RESOURCE: See the bottom of our 'Resume Cookbook' for an overview and examples of infographic resumes).

A first step in this process of recommendations is identifying who you can specifically ask for a recommendation from. Here is a list of 10 sources of quality recommendations:

  1. Direct Manager(s) - Who has directly overseen your work? Your goal should be to have at least one recommendation from a prior Manager, preferably one who managed you for a year or more. We recommend focusing on direct managers/supervisors from recent positions.

  2. Peers and/or Team Lead - One of the best types of individuals who can speak to your skills, contributions and how you approach work (including your attitude) are the ones you work alongside. They can often speak more in-depth to your strengths and all the "little extras" you do in the workplace vs. your direct supervisor. Ask yourself "who have I worked with for a significant period of time who could best speak to my skills, work ethic, initiative, attitude, ability to learn new things, how I've helped others, etc.?"

  3. Client(s) - We all serve customers in our roles, whether those be internal (employees or groups) and/or external (clients, vendors, etc.). Ask yourself "Who does my work directly support?" If you do project-based work, it is helpful to identify the main beneficiary after you deliver on each project. 

  4. Subordinates - It's great to have senior management, director, VP and/or executive level recommendations if you're in a leadership capacity and pursuing Management roles. However, it can be just as impactful to have recommendations from the people you directly managed. Those are the individuals that can speak to traits such as: how you motivate, how you lead, how you handle conflict resolution, how you provide feedback and other performance management functions, your communication style, follow up and follow through, etc.

  5. Trainees/Mentees - This group could also fall under #4 (i.e. subordinates), or it could differ, especially if you are in a Senior or Team Lead role. Ask yourself "who have I helped train and/or mentor in this role, or in the last one to two years? "Getting a recommendation from someone you've trained or mentored is especially important if you are looking to advance into more of a leadership role!

  6. User Group/Conference Organizer - Are you involved in a local MeetUp/User Group, Association, Code Camp, SQL Saturday, or other technical community event? Have you contributed to that group (as a speaker, volunteer, board/committee member)? These "community contributions" are great to add to your resume as they show various positive traits such as passion for technology, initiative, networking, and more! If you go above and beyond to be a contributor to a technical community/group you are involved in, vs. just being a member, it's also another source for obtaining a recommendation.

  7. Hackathons/Code-a-thons Organizer or Project Lead - Similar to #6, this recommendation source falls into the "community involvement" category. Not only are these events great for obtaining or building new skills, working with new technologies, networking and potentially solving community problems, but they're great for demonstrating your passion and initiative to current and future Manager/s!

The remaining three sources are going to be the most relevant for students, whether you are in college, a certification school, coding boot camp or other STEM program.

  1. Professors - Do you have one or two specific Professors you worked closely with? Maybe they acted as a mentor or you had a substantial project you completed for them? Or they oversaw your internship? If someone comes to mind, ask for a recommendation!

  2. Internship Manager or Project Mentor - Did you have an internship? Who was the recipient of your work/project? Or, maybe you were part of a programming boot camp where you built an application. Who was your mentor, either formal or informal, who you went to for advice or to share the code with?

  3. Coach, Club Board Member or another Academic Group - Were you active with a sports team? Part of an honor society, club, fraternity/sorority, or other group where you served in any role (i.e. Secretary, Treasurer, President, Social Chair, Philanthropic Chair, Fundraiser, etc.)? When we were in college, some of our best experience came from involvement in academic organizations, such as being the Donations Chair for the Relay For Life event of the college, planning a game show fundraiser to support a nonprofit, and acting as the Philanthropic Chair for the American Marketing Association Club. If you are involved and contributing to an organization like this, seek out a recommendation from the President or Vice President of the organization, or whoever your college sponsor of the club is! 

A couple additional best practices around collecting recommendations:

  • It's important to request recommendations real-time, when their experience working with you is fresh! We've had people ask us for recommendations or reference letters years later, when it is harder to remember your main strengths, key contributions, etc. 
  • Reflect on "What types of recommendations would the hiring Manager best like to see for the types of role/s you are pursuing?" For example, if you're a Developer and you created an application that saved considerable time for a different group, it would be worthwhile to ask a Lead or Manager within the group where your work benefitted and had an impact for a recommendation.
Next Steps

There are two major action items to keep in mind around this concept of collecting quality recommendations that can act as strong testimonials to support the skills you'd provide during a job search and/or as you're being considered for a promotion!

  • First, consider doing some sort of 'Annual Career Reflection,' perhaps in January each year. During this reflection, think about the 'Career Resolutions' you're going to make for that year, such as "I'd like to learn this new skill, attend one relevant conference, pursue a certification, etc." As part of this, ask yourself "Who from the previous year did my work really contribute to? Would it be acceptable to ask them for a brief recommendation or testimonial of my work?" Strive to identify one person a year, and ask them for a recommendation real-time (i.e. don't wait until your next job search).
  • Second, as you're starting your job search, evaluate your current recommendations and identify the ones that would still be relevant and powerful to use (based on the types of jobs you're now pursuing). Then, determine who else could provide a good recommendation. Ask yourself "What types of jobs am I interested in pursuing? What skills and technologies do those types of roles ask for? Who should I ask a recommendation from who can speak directly to my expertise with those skills and technologies?"

Once you have some quality recommendations, share at various points in the job search and interview process. You can:

  1. Email to the Recruiter/Talent Acquisition Specialist you're working with on the opportunity.
  2. Print them out and provide to the hiring Manager near the end of the interview. Especially if you have LinkedIn recommendations, it's very easy to download them as a PDF directly from your profile.
  3. Include specific recommendations that are relevant for that job in your follow up thank you note to the Manager/Recruiter after an interview.

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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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