Generally, you will need 2-4 references when applying for a job, and you will not get a job unless you list them. References are people who will vouch for you. When you apply for a job and an employer is interested in you, they will call a reference to get more perspective about whether or not you will be a good worker and fit for their business.
Since teens and young adults start out without any paid work experience, adult mentors, supervisors, and authority figures tend to serve as their references – until they have developed enough professional references. (Do not use friends or family members unless they work for the business you are applying to!) References can be people who supervise(d) you during a job, internship, volunteer work, civic involvement, community service, community events, sports, clubs, etc.
When you get a paid job, do your best to meet your employers expectations. If you perform well and give ample notice before leaving a position, you will likely get one or more good professional references from each work experience. Considering that you need strong references in order to get employed in the future, these people and their recommendations are priceless.
Set yourself up for success by generating a list of references and adding to it over time. (See the Reference Sheet Template.) When applying for a job, include the references from your master list, which are current and/or most relevant to the job you are applying for.
Since people don’t always stay at the same place of employment their whole lives, it’s smart to ask people to serve as a reference before you stop working somewhere – even if you are not currently looking for a job. If a person agrees to serve as a reference, ask them for their cell phone number and/or personal email address as well as their work number and email address. When you start applying for jobs again, contact your references to make sure that their information is still current and confirm which number and email address is best to add to your application or reference sheet. Additionally, check to make sure that they are still willing to vouch for you. If so, some references might ask you for a summary of your strengths or the names of businesses you are applying to, so they will be more prepared if contacted. Make sure you keep these allies in the loop and share the good news with them whenever you get a job. They have invested in you, and this is one small way to give back.