What Are References? (Types, Benefits And Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

References help students or job seekers secure admission into committees, colleges or new organisations. A written or recorded reference may include information regarding why the referred candidate is a suitable choice while also stating their relevant professional qualities and experience. Understanding what references and their purpose are can guide you in contacting the right people and requesting a recommendation based on the job or course you desire . In this article, we define what are references, examine their types, discuss their components and advantages, review their format and provide sample references.

Related: How To Put References on a Resume (With Template & Examples)

What Are References?

If you are looking for a career change or seeking admission to universities, you may wonder, "What are references?". References are people who can talk about your work experience, professional skill set, work habits, character and personality. As their perspective of your professionalism can decide if you get the new job or college, it helps to choose someone who has supervised or has worked closely with you.

Often, potential employers ask for the contact details of an ex-employer or senior. Ensure the reference holds a convincing opinion of your contribution, as this increases the probability of acquiring the role. Also, references can be from your professional workplace, academic settings or even third parties.

Types Of References

Here are three common types of references:

Work reference

These references typically come from a past co-worker. They can be a junior in your team who has gained promotion to a position of higher responsibility or your reporting manager from a previous company. They may provide details about your in-depth knowledge of a subject, capability to adapt to workplace situations and the additional efforts you made during your assigned projects. If your reference is aware of the job you are applying for, they may also add relevant details about your skills and subject matter expertise, which usually increases your chances of being hired.

Related: What Is A Reference Letter? (With Tips And Example)

Academic reference

Academic references can benefit candidates with less job experience who are applying for a first-time internship, admission to a new institute or as a fresher for a corporate role. For academic references, ask your reporting teacher, project manager or any professor who was aware of your educational proficiency and mentioned your potential while teaching you. Ask them to include details of your marks and how you differentiated your academic talents from other students in different departments. If possible, you may request your teacher to mention how you approached a problem statement with analytical thinking.

Character reference

Some jobs and colleges, which run specific committees focussed on social, mental or economic development for society, may require character references to verify how suitable is a candidate's personality. You can contact a landlord, indirect colleague, friend with a strong professional reputation or a client you had a reliable professional understanding. These people can recommend you based on your dependability and honesty, which are common personality traits committee members look for in fresh hires.

What Can A Reference Include?

References can be short, to-the-point and include basic details based on the referring individual's opinion of working with you. Here are additional factors that references may consist of:

Details of a project you contributed to

A strong reference may mention a brief paragraph on the type and goal of the project you were responsible for completing. This can include the subject knowledge required, equipment used, research conducted and even the collaboration you performed as a team member. Some references can explain how your inputs revealed critical insights for the final goal and simplified the problem statement for the entire team.

Related: Self-Introduction In Interview For Experienced Candidates

Relevant professional etiquette

Your professional etiquette is often a factor most recruiters prefer to study. As this defines how well you can adjust to a hierarchy of professionals, a reference typically mentions etiquettes such as timely communication, effective follow-ups, error-free presentations and reports, apart from a sense of accountability to the team. In some cases, the referring authority may focus solely on the candidate's professional etiquette to explain how such habits eventually become a requirement for the whole team.

Likeable personality traits

Apart from recommending a candidate based only on work habits, some references also state personality traits critical to a candidate's performance in a growth-oriented environment. Whether the characteristics include patience, obedience or observation, mentioning such details gives the hiring authority a much clearer perspective of your personality. Such details may also assist an organisation in understanding your suitability for their organisational culture, multiple teams and client-company relationship.

Related: How to Write A Referral Letter (With Sample And Example)

Progression in the organisation

If you are applying for a high-level position or a PhD degree, references may discuss how you progressed from your first position to the last job you held at the company. This explains your ability to stay focussed and showcase consecutively appreciated performances, leading to multiple promotions within the same company. As such, sections in references may include the precise roles you held, concerned authorities might notice your positions of responsibility. There is often a chance they can analyse how consistently you scaled your performance while working with your past organisation.

Approach and mindset to resolving problems

Both approach and mindset when finding solutions to problems indicate your thinking methodology when planning, preparing and executing a solution. Companies or educational institutes requesting references may look forward to understanding your problem-solving mechanism and knowing whether you are flexible with your thinking process. Details as such may also prove beneficial when the hiring authority is deciding to allocate specific responsibilities, or a client requires a frequent shift in problem-solving approaches due to unique project demands.

Who Can Write You A Reference?

Here are some authorities that can write you a reference on request:

  • Co-workers functioning in the same team and job role as you

  • Departmental heads who noticed your achievements

  • Managers and team leads aware of your considerable contribution to a project

  • Clients who appreciated your willingness to manage challenging situations within strict deadlines

  • High-level management that has presented you awards for your notable work

  • High-school teachers who witnessed your quality academic performances and growth

  • College professors who acknowledged your ability to learn challenging concepts

  • Project coordinators that offered you praise because of your exceptional team working skills

Related: Thank You Message For Colleagues: Writing Tips And Examples

How Can I Get New References?

For new references, you can apply for a course or part-time job in your field of expertise. Try creating a respectable impression and contributing to your classmates or co-workers through responses enhancing the outcome of their learnings. You can also volunteer to assist higher authorities in administrative duties and show professional behaviour during interactions to convince them of your capabilities. After establishing a positive impression, try requesting them for a reference.

Related: How To Write An Introduction Letter (With Types And Samples)

Why Do Job Candidates Require References?

References can show your academic credentials, professional skills, personality and capabilities. They resolve a prospective employer's doubts regarding the legitimacy of the candidate's stated skill set and assist them while making a crucial hiring decision that involves spending company resources. Depending on the role you are applying for, references may decide the relevance of your past projects and experience. Often, detail-oriented references written by trusted and reputed industry experts can significantly increase the candidate's salary package and privileges within the company. Candidates can also use references as evidence of their professional accomplishments.

Sample Format Of References

This top-to-bottom format is usually used in job application references:

  • Reference name

  • Reference position

  • Reference company

  • Reference office address

  • Reference phone number

  • Reference email address

  • Description of the reference's opinion of you

Examples Of References

Here are a few popular examples of references:

Job application reference

Jonty Pal

Managing director

Sodry Inc.

17th floor, Molly Towers,

Lalbal Road,

Mumbai, 400049



Ridha was the regional sales department team leader, focusing on boosting our company's income by implementing regional sales techniques. As I was the sales head during her tenure, we worked closely and Ridha constantly demonstrated her ability to meet departmental goals. She planned and executed sales strategies which translated into financial success for our regional sales goals. Additionally, she was prompt with responses, respected deadlines, and maintained the team morale to maximise her team's efficiency. I can proudly recommend her to perform well in any sales position that involves growth more than sustenance.

College application reference

Prof. Zaid Punari

Head of Science

Young Faith High School

4th Street, Mount Road

Mumbai, 400057



Tihat and I maintained a conversational student-teacher relationship during his final year at school. He asked questions that students usually answer in the third year of graduate programmes. More than seeking an answer, he offered alternative solutions which were not in the textbook and also used my guidance to formulate intelligent solutions. His passion for the science field and strong foundational knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics makes him a worthy candidate to apply for the Bachelor of Science course at your institute.

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Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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