Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly advice column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Career Services Consultant, answers reader questions. Have a pressing concern about your job (search)? Submit your question here.
Q: Which of these is better to use as a reference: someone who has known me and supervised me for a long time but who has no contacts at a workplace where I am applying for a job, or someone who supervised me for an semester-long internship and has many contacts at that workplace (the job is at an academic library and I worked with both supervisors in an academic library setting).
A: This is a great question! If you have a number of references to choose from (which is highly recommended), you want to choose ones who can talk about your work performance and character in detail. It's important that they can speak to your performance in a setting matching the position you are applying for as closely as possible. And, as you know, supervisors are preferable to any other reference relationship.
In this case, both are supervisors, and both know you well in an academic library setting, so if it is possible, I’d use both. It sounds like you must choose one, though, and if each would be equally positive and enthusiastic in his/her endorsement of you, I would favor the supervisor who has the contacts at that workplace. A reference from someone who is known to the hiring manager or hiring committee carries more weight than one from someone who is not known. It wouldn’t be a mistake to use the other one though. If your gut is telling you to go with one over the other, though, I think you should follow your instincts.
Bonus tip: Be aware that experienced and smart hiring managers may contact colleagues besides the references you give. They may do a little research and call or email someone you’ve worked with in the past who is not on your list (those who have attended my job hunting workshops know that I refer to these as “unofficial references”).