3 References You Can Use for Your First Job Application

Professional references for your job application are difficult to get when you don’t have much work experience as a fresh graduate, but there are ways you can go around it.
Carmen Teh
Writer, gradsingapore

Naming references in your job application form or résumé for your first job can be quite tricky. Does that mean that you should forgo the references section entirely? The answer is no – especially if you are asked to specify them in your job application form.

Employers typically want confirmation and reassurance that the claims you make in your job application, résumé and interview are true. Not having references to back up what you say may make recruiters feel uncertain about you.

However, most employers will take into account that you’re a fresh graduate applying for your first job. As such, they will be accepting of references who are outside the professional circle.

Here are other references you can use instead:

1. Your professor

This is a common reference graduates use during their job applications, but be sure to choose a professor who knows you well and can vouch for your performance in school.

For instance, this could be your research supervisor whom you worked closely with when writing your final-year thesis or dissertation, or a professor whom you attended regular meetings with to get career advice.

As this is an obvious reference choice for most graduates, professors are used to being listed as one and they will likely allow themselves to be references in your job application. However, do act fast while your professor’s impression of you is still fresh on his or her mind.

2. A past leader

Did you work under the leadership of a classmate for a group project? Perhaps under a leader in a school society or student club? If you were, and you are close to this leader, you can add this person to your reference list.

A previous leader who managed you directly and outside the context of the classroom is an ideal reference to have as they can attest to your soft skills. Employers greatly value soft skills as these will showcase your ability to deal with real-world problems and situations, such as working with difficult clients or with co-workers of different personalities.

Get in touch with this person and ask him or her if he or she is willing to be listed as your reference. When reaching out to this person, you may want to explain about how the experience of working with him or her was meaningful to you, and why he or she would be a good reference contact.

3. A member of a group you’ve led

Any evidence or experience that showcases your leadership abilities is good to mention during your job application and interview. As such, you may want to also include a reference to back it up.

This reference could be a member of a committee you headed, or someone from a team you led for an extracurricular activity you spearheaded. You may want to choose someone whom you helped during your time working together – or at least someone who has a positive impression of you.

If there is a specific incident or achievement that involves your reference that you wish to highlight during your interview or in your résumé, don’t forget to inform this person that you will be mentioning it to your recruiter.

This is to ensure that if your recruiter calls your reference to verify this piece of information, he or she will not be stumped. Call your former team member up to ask him or her if he or she is willing to be your reference while jogging his or her memory on what you and this person achieved together.

Other things to consider

When coming up with a list of references for your job application, you need to be sure that the people you include will have good things to say about you. Not only that, you should ensure that these people know you well enough to say sufficient things about you.

For instance, if your recruiter decides to call up your reference to get a deeper insight about you, and if he or she ends up saying, “I don’t know him well enough to say more” – your recruiter may just think that you did not leave a strong enough impression with this person and write you off as not achieving anything memorable.

Another key thing to note when asking for your contacts’ permission to list them as references, is to give them some context of the job you are applying for. Let them know some of the key traits about you that would be useful for them to talk about, so that what they say will help strengthen your job application.