Preparing Professional References That Set You Apart

Posted September 24, 2022
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Do you have a list of references readily available to help you out? If not, it’s time for you to start lining them up. Whether you’re applying for the Spark grant program or looking for a new job, it’s important to gather a list of individuals close to you who can not only boast your credentials and qualifications, but speak on your behalf of your character and genuine work ethic. 

Similar to most reference lists, these individuals should be noted in a professional format and previously contacted before submitting your list. Below, we’ve created a guide to ensure you understand how to find and solidify any references you may need within your career.

How Should You Be Preparing Your References?

It’s no secret asking a former supervisor, associate, colleague, professor, etc. to offer you a reference can be a huge responsibility. Most often, an employment or award offer can hang in the balance based on the references you’re choosing. If you’re not putting in the extra effort to solidify references and provide them with the right information, this could potentially be what helps you succeed versus not. 

We’ve detailed a couple steps to take into consideration as you’re going through the process of finding valuable references who will be able to vouch highly of your accomplishments.

Ask for Permission

It’s important to take time out of your regular schedule to visit or chat on the phone with the individuals you’re seeking as a reference. Even if it goes without saying, asking for permission with a more hands-on or personal approach can be the deciding factor toward whether they’re able to help you out or not. 

Although, you’ll want to ensure you’re giving them the space and time needed to make their decision. Give them time to review your resume and understand more about what it is you’re applying for that way they’ll be fully prepared once they agree to provide a reference for you. 

For the most part, the individuals you choose should be eager to help you, but it is recommended to keep these possibilities in mind. 

Most people want to be prepared and well-versed on the person they’re recommending before agreeing to do so. Also, by asking for their permission, you’re giving them the opportunity to make this decision on their own and ensure a more genuine response.

Share Detailed Information

While sharing your resume and personal information is an important aspect of this process, it’s also essential to share specific details about what it is you’re applying for. Whether it’s for a grant program, employment opportunity or award, tell your reference a little bit about it and give them some context as to what they’re providing a reference for. 

If you’re giving them up-to-date information, they’ll be able to remember certain details about their experience with you and highlight those characteristics or relevant accomplishments within their recommendation for you. This will go a long way when helping them share key information regarding your experience.

Provide Relevant Talking Points

It should be understood that all references have a general character reference component, whether this is explicitly stated or not. It may seem immodest to remind your reference of your character, integrity, work ethic and professionalism, but it is vitally important to do so. 

A way of offering this information could be to simply say, “As you remember, I have always prided myself on being a hard-worker, mission-focused and sets high standards for myself…” or you can physically provide them with key talking points to touch upon when writing a reference for you. You can share this information by scheduling a 10-15 minute phone call or even meeting up to grab a cup of coffee. 

When it comes to asking for references from peers and coworkers, the same general principles apply. These will be the people who provide more insights toward who you are as a person and characteristics you live by, therefore it’s important to share certain information with them so they’re able to highlight relevant points. 

Overall, you’ll want to provide more information regarding specific positions you’ve held, certain accomplishments or awards you’ve received or projects you might have led. It’s important to guide your references toward mentioning key elements of your experience that will help you out in any situation.


Lastly, after you visit or phone call with the people you’re interested in having as a reference, send a follow-up message or email expressing your appreciation. Afterward, remember to keep your references updated during the interview process with a call or visit, if and when you submit their name so they aren’t taken by surprise. 

The easier you make this for your references, the happier they’ll be. For the most part, any individual you speak to will be more than eager to help you, but may not know exactly how. 

Overall, following through with the techniques above can help you leverage this aspect of any job, award or grant program you’re applying for. If you’ve selected and adequately prepared the right individuals, they will be able to impress any hiring manager or submission reviewer in a way that your resume cannot do alone.

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