What you need to know about job references


Something which always surprises me when looking at the tips available to job seekers is the lack of (quality) information surrounding the topic of job references. The chances are that you’ve been asked to provided references at some point in your career, if not at position you have ever applied for, so why is there still so much confusion? It seems that a lot of job seekers don’t know where they should go, when to incorporate them or who to include on the list. So let’s try to clear a few things up.

First of all, why are they important? Hiring someone is not an easy task. From an employer’s point of view it can be quite difficult to know who the right person for the job is, even after the interview. So ultimately the job reference is a way to instil confidence in the hiring manager. It helps to confirm that you are the perfect candidate for the job. Taking that into account, it is fair to say that a reference can be the difference between getting the job and having to continue the search. But what is it about job references that causes confusion?

 How to choose your references

Of course you want to get references from people who you got on with but it’s not quite as simple as that. You should choose people who know you well, that respect you and that are knowledgeable of your former achievements. Who these people are depends on what stage you are at in your career. For example if you are a recent graduate you may choose to include a reference from a tutor or professor you had at university. But if you are further on in your career it is always best to gain professional references from your former employers. Be sure to notify whoever you choose as a reference so that they can prepare something before they receive the call.

Where to put your references

As someone who receives CV’s on a daily basis, it is very easy to identify the classic mistakes that people make when it comes to job references. Firstly, it’s important to make it clear that your job references should not be part of your CV/Cover letter combo. It’s enough trouble to try to create a concise and well laid out Resume without having to squeeze on your references. They are a waste of space! Secondly, the phrase “references are available on request” is another way to waste space on your CV. That phrase doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t provide anyone with any information. An employer will assume you have references and in all honesty failure to provide any is not likely to end up landing you a job. Your references should be laid out on a separate document which you can provide to your employer when asked. You can also take this with you to an interview, along with your CV.

Here are some of key tips for job references:

  • Ask for a reference from your employer before you leave the position
  • Think carefully about who should reference you. Perhaps ask if they can provide a positive reference and move on if you notice hesitation
  • Provide accurate contact information. Keep up to date with that employer, for example checking if they remain in that position or company
  • Inform your references of the position you are applying for and in which company
  • Build a solid list of positive LinkedIn recommendations

Most of the time (if you are a good candidate) your job references won’t make or break your chances. Often job references are very similar and bland and just positive. But, if you can prepare your references in a way that lets you sue them as a marketing tool then you can give yourself the best chance of getting employed. So get those references in order!


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