Everything you need to know about job references

If you’ve been offered a job subject to references, it’s worth giving the matter some careful thought. A bad reference can strike a painful blow, while a good reference can confirm the employer’s opinion that you’re highly employable!


  1. Choosing your referees. The first thing to think about is who to ask for a reference. If you haven’t had a job before, maybe you could ask someone you know to give a character reference. This could be an academic person, your supervisor in a voluntary role, or the head of a sports team you play for. Think about the skills you need to demonstrate and pick someone who can vouch that you have them. If you’ve been employed before, you may have a choice of referees. You’ll need to provide a reference from your current role, but the second referee is up to you. Pick someone who will give a glowing reference that is relevant to this role, preferably a former line manager.
  2. Find out what sort of reference is required. Your employer may ask for a factual reference or a full reference. A factual reference is usually quite quick to fill in and focuses in on key facts, such as attendance, dates of employment, job title and performance data. A full reference will give more scope for detail and explanation. Remember that your manager doesn’t have to give you a good reference – or indeed any reference at all – but most will give a fair report so long as you haven’t done anything to prevent them from doing so. If you have concerns that your reference may include details that won’t paint you in a good light – for example a particularly high number of sick days – speak to your prospective employer about this and explain your concerns up front, giving reasons for anything negative that might appear on your reference.
  3. Provide up-to-date details. It’s no good sending details of someone you worked for ten years ago without checking that they can still be reached on the same number or via the same email address. They might not even work for the company any more. Check the details before you pass them on.
  4. Give your referees a heads up. You should ask, or at least inform, your referees before giving their contact details. They may have no idea that a reference request is coming their way, and that might influence the kind of reference they are prepared to give. If you haven’t told your boss you’re leaving, make it clear you don’t want your referees to be approached until you have a firm offer on the table.
  5. Speak to your boss. If you’ve had an offer that is subject to references, you’ll need to speak to your manager before your prospective employer gets in touch. Make an appointment to see him or her in private. It might be that your boss comes up with a really good counter offer at this point. Either way, your manager will know you’re leaving when the request comes through, so it’s common courtesy to deliver the news yourself.
  6. Thank them. Your referees should give you a good reference if you’ve chosen well. If so, make sure you thank them for backing you. Their time is valuable and they’ve devoted some of it helping you get this job. And you never know… you might end up working for them, or socialising with them, in the future.
  7. Ask for a copy. If you feel you haven’t been offered a job, or a job offer has been retracted, because of a bad reference, ask for a copy of your references. The first step is to ascertain whether it is an accurate reflection of your conduct and capabilities. If not, you could contact your referees and ask them to amend it, where appropriate. If the referee refuses, but has not been 100% accurate and honest, it may be possible to take legal action. For example, if you were dismissed from a role and they have not given factual reasons for this dismissal, you may have grounds to bring it to a tribunal.


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Joy Tibbs is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to Premier. Find out more at joyofediting.co.uk and find her on Twitter @joyous25

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