The company I applied to is asking for references.

I have some options, and I am not sure which is best. They are along the line of "PhD student whom I collaborated rather closely on a project", or "professor who supervised my project, but with whom I never had much contact". That is reputable but without much personal contact, vs the opposite.

In my opinion, both types have advantages and disadvantages. Which type do you think is more suitable? Is it a good move to ask the recruiter which type they prefer, after motivating why I could present each reference?

  • 2
    I'd just say: "References available on request", and when requested, outline the options. Sep 25, 2023 at 15:25
  • @GregoryCurrie I have already been requested references. I cannot decide which references to ask. I was asking for advice on the type of references, or whether to let them decide. I may have misinterpreted your comment though
    – Lilla
    Sep 25, 2023 at 15:27
  • 3
    Why not just present both and get on with the process?
    – joeqwerty
    Sep 25, 2023 at 16:18
  • 1
    If they are asking for references (plural), then is both an option?
    – Simon B
    Sep 25, 2023 at 16:21
  • 1
    No, not knowing the references or the company, we can't tell you which is best. Send both, or ask the folks you are interviewing with if you feel they might object to getting both.
    – keshlam
    Sep 25, 2023 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


As a general rule with References - Almost always go with someone who is in a supervisory/senior position.

In your case - that would be your professor.

There are reasons for me saying this - the first is that your friend or fellow student that you worked with could just straight-up lie about how great you are. Granted, you could also get your friend to pretend to be a professor and also lie about how great you are... But certain things would tend to give this game away - such as the Gravitas of the person speaking, the responses they give, the age/sound of the voice etc.

Secondly (which is the more practical element) - there are things that you see when you are a manager that your co-workers simply won't. Think of it like the difference between sitting pitch-side at a Rugby game vs seeing the game from above via a Helicopter. Same game, completely different view and perspective.

And if I'm hiring someone - I care more about that perspective than I do from your co-workers.

I understand your hesitance if he hasn't been particularly high-touch during the project - but there's a flip-side: That is not necessarily a bad thing.

For example - let's presume I'm your professor and I get called for a reference:

"Yes, I was the supervisor on the project. Actually I didn't need to involve myself in a lot of the day-to-day minutia, Hahn76 was very self-motivated and capable - working with the team to progress through the tasks, this allowed me to be very hands-off. Periodically they would check in as and when needed - but they never gave me problems and the work was done within reasonable timeframes."

  • I've said I didn't have a whole lot to do with you
  • I've given the reason why
  • This sort of response is music to a hiring managers' ears

TL;DR - Don't think that not having a lot of contact with someone can hurt them as a reference. On the contrary, if you didn't need a lot of contact with them - that can be spun as a positive.

  • Good to hear, thank you for the answer. Reading your post I was also thinking: is it then positive to explain why I chose a reference over another? For instance, "I chose professor X because he has witnessed my growth in topic Y" or such things, is this something the hiring manager wants to hear? Or the references should somehow speak for themselves?
    – Lilla
    Sep 25, 2023 at 19:43
  • Also, motivating why I haven't chosen some references one might expect given my CV, is this something okay to do?
    – Lilla
    Sep 25, 2023 at 19:50
  • 1
    @hahn76 - I wouldn't even go that far: "Here is my Reference - Professor X who was my supervisor for this project" - that's all you need to say. Sep 25, 2023 at 20:43

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