Employers don’t just look at qualifications and work experience. Often they will want to learn more about yourself, your character and your abilities in past jobs, to do this they will often ask you for a reference.

What is a reference?

A reference is the name and contact details of someone that knows you. This could be a previous employer, a school/college teacher, a university lecturer or a professional that knows you from your personal life. References allow your future employer to make sure that you have worked/made the education that it says on your application but also that you are a good employee and a reliable individual.

Selecting a reference

Different companies will ask for different amount of references, it’s always good to have prepared at least two.

When selecting someone to provide a reference, your first port of call should always be previous employers, preferably your latest one. If you’ve got several previous employers to choose from, pick one that’s in a similar sector to the one you’re applying for.

If this is your first job, you will need to provide personal or education references instead. Try to pick someone who can give an unbiased point of view, this is when you can use previous teachers or lecturers who are able to tell the employer about your school work and your general attitude. Steer clear of family members if you can, as some employers want personal references to be unrelated.

Contacting a reference

It is always best to contact your reference before giving their details to an employer, this should be done via email, with a follow up phone call if they don’t get back to you. Not everyone will have time to give a reference, so an email gives them some time to think about it first.

If you feel confident that they will be willing do it then contact them over the phone. This is an approach that you should only really take if you know them very well, had a good working relationship or just need an answer quickly.

You should contact the person giving your reference as soon as possible as it gives them more time to write one instead of rushing to do one last minute.

When you do contact your reference, remember to be patient and polite – remember that they will be recommending you judged on your character!

Whenever you ask them, make sure you get their permission first before you start listing their contact details. Never assume that you will definitely get a reference as employers have no legal obligation if they don’t want to. Even if they do reluctantly decide to give you a reference there’s still no rule about how long or detailed it has to be.

It is important to always ask your references how they would prefer to be contacted, as everyone will want to give their statement differently. Some won’t want you to give out their phone number, while others may want their email address to remain private instead.

What to write on your CV

There is no need to list your references on your CV, in order to let the employer know that you have some readily available, simply write: “references available on request”. Make sure you have your references written up on a document ready to give an employer, should they ask.