The Importance of Professional References in the Modern Job Market

*As seen in McKnight's Long Term Care News*


Your job search process has begun. You’ve got your resume stacked with accounts of your accomplishments, your online profile is superb, and you’ve practiced your ‘elevator speech’ one hundred times. Even with all the prep-work, you’re still not quite done. Many job-seekers don’t realize the importance of professional references and create a list of them as an afterthought. We will make the case that your reference list is just as important as the other tools in your job-search toolbox, and deserves the same amount of attention, if not more.


Checking professional references is an integral part of most employers’ hiring process. In fact, research indicates that nearly 70% of employers do a reference check for every candidate. When employers have whittled the field down to a few candidates, it is often references that provide the tie-breaking information, and about 20% of the time, the candidate is ruled out after talking to references. Prospective employers in the healthcare industry use professional references to gain insight into a candidate’s work ethic and personality, and to help determine if the candidate will fit in with the culture of the company.



Professional references are recommendations from a person who can attest to your qualifications, and who has experienced your work ethic (personal references from friends and family are not appropriate). Potential references should be chosen thoughtfully and carefully. They can be colleagues, teachers, advisors, employees, or supervisors. In the clinical setting, candidates should provide at least one supervising physician and two peers that work within the same specialty. (In fact, most hospitals require these for government enrollment.) Advanced practice providers should list the supervising physician who is on their licensure. For directors of nursing, a supervising administrator or regional clinical director, and two peers are ideal inclusions.



Make sure your references will be good ones. Bad reviews from professional references happen more frequently than you might imagine. Clearly you want to avoid co-workers you’ve clashed with and bosses who have fired you, but even references you think might speak about you in glowing terms may surprise you – and lose you the job. Don’t be afraid to ask your potential references what they might say. You can even approach them by saying “are you comfortable giving me a positive review if you are contacted?” If you’re still not sure they are ready to sing your praises you can use a reference verification service to confirm their reviews will be positive.



The traditional advice has always been to provide three references. However, if you are embarking on an extensive job search, you could wear your references out. Better to provide a list of seven to ten who can provide a 360 degree view of you. In other words, choose at least one person you worked for, one you worked with, and one who worked for you. Once you’ve created your list of potential references, contact them to discuss your upcoming job search. Ask if they are willing to talk to potential employers, and/or give you a letter of recommendation. Be ready to provide some suggested content they can discuss or write about. In fact, often a candidate will do the work of writing a reference letter him/herself, then send to the reference for approval and signature.   



These days, resumes need to be short, concise, and devoid of anything unnecessary for a first cut. You don’t want to weigh it down with your reference list. Keep the list as a separate document to be provided upon request, and include it on your online profile or website. Make sure reference contact information is current, and provide your prospective employer with a short description (no more than one sentence) of how that reference knows you.

The importance of professional references can’t be downplayed. They are your partners in the job-search process, and creating a list of appropriate, positive references will play a key role in helping you land your dream job.

Melissa R. Green, MBA

Melissa Green, MBA, is a Provider Recruiter with LeaderStat Locums, a recruiting firm connecting healthcare organizations with exceptional providers seven days a week, 365 days a year. She enjoys working with clinicians to find assignments that fit their interests, skill set and experience.

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