The HR sent me an email telling me that the interview went well. As a follow up to the interview she asked me to send her three professional references (names, professional relationship and contact information - phone and email).

As a fresh graduate (I graduated last year), I looked for every professional contact I could find. One of them is a CEO of a media startup, the other was a coordinator at a research center, and the last one was the director of my scholarship. I sent all of them to her. The job I'm applying for is related to digital journalism.

I realized my contacts weren't strong enough, and I asked myself if they would satisfy what they were actually looking for in terms of " relevant professional references", and then I asked myself if they would actually call them. So, my questions are:

1) How are they going to assess my references? Should I stress over the quality of my references? 2) Is it common that employers call the provided references and ask them about potential candidates?

  • Note that whether they call references depends on the company and on how far along you are in the process. It's typical and perfectly fine to ask the person requesting references whether/when they will be called so you can give them a heads-up.
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 27, 2016 at 14:22
  • Contact these people as soon as possible and get permission. Apologize for failing to do this before submitting their names. You never know what people are going to say.
    – user8365
    Apr 27, 2016 at 20:49

3 Answers 3


A professional reference is simply someone that you worked with, typically a supervisor, a colleague, or a direct report. Since you're also a recent graduate, it could be stretched to a professor, especially one that you had multiple courses with in your field of study. Anyone who can answer questions about your academic or work history and work ethic after working with you in an academic or professional environment would make a good professional reference.

I don't think there's that much to speak of in terms of "quality" of a reference. People who have worked with you more recently are better than people you have worked with longer ago, but both would likely still be OK.

Companies may or may not call your references. They may be OK with you giving them the names of people who could vouch for you if they were called.

I do think you made one mistake, especially if the company calls references. Typically, you ask permission of the people you want to be references before you submit their names and contact information. At this time, you will tell them about the position(s) and company(s) that you are applying to and ask if they would be willing to be a reference. Only after they accept would you provide their names and contact information.

  • Keep in mind that not all references are created equal: people with work experience will be expected to provide their actual managers as references. See this article and my summary/interpretation of it in this answer.
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 27, 2016 at 14:20
  • @Lilienthal I haven't found that to be the case. Usually, when asked for references, I supply people who have worked directly with me - project leads and colleagues, not managers. If your manager doesn't know your day-to-day work (mine doesn't, aside from what projects I'm assigned to), they wouldn't make a good reference. Apr 27, 2016 at 14:23
  • In that case your project lead would be considered a manager, even if he's not in charge of your reviews etc. The point is to have someone who can actually speak to the quality of your work. Colleagues often can't because they don't see the full picture of each other's responsibilities and aren't used to providing critical feedback.
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 27, 2016 at 14:32
  • @Lilienthal It depends on your organization. I do not consider my project lead to be a manager - on one project, my lead is the same seniority and pay grade as me, but specializes in a different area. Here, all engineers and quality staff (and some others) are provide feedback on work through peer reviews or working together on tasks. Depending on the nature of the position I was applying for, I would choose references who could speak to my work in a given area. Your organization may be different, but anyone who can speak to your knowledge, skills, and work ethic would make a good reference. Apr 27, 2016 at 14:38

Should I stress over the quality of my references?

I can't see how "stressing" over the quality of your references helps you now. Try not to worry about it until something actually happens. The fact that you were even asked for references is a good sign that you are close to getting an offer.

Is it common that employers call the provided references and ask them about potential candidates?

In every company where I have worked, we have called at least 2-3 references before hiring a candidate.

At least in my part of the world, that is very common. That's what references are for.

Unless the reference directly contradicts something the candidate said (and that doesn't happen very often), these calls aren't a big factor in the hiring decision. They are often just due diligence, pretty much after the hiring decision has already been made.

As a new graduate, nobody would expect you to have references that would equal someone with many years of experience. Don't worry about it so much.


It really depends on the person/people conducting the interview. Some places will call references and take them greatly into account, other places just wanna see if you have references or not.

As far as quality goes, what's most important is that they're positive references, beyond that, if someone who is interviewing you knows your reference, that goes pretty far. And if your reference is someone well known in the field, that goes pretty far. But ultimately, you want someone who will speak highly of you.

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