Tips for choosing referees

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Tips for choosing referees

BY Skillset 05 Jul, 2022

Checking the references of a job candidate is often the last step in the recruitment process. References provided by referees can either ‘make or break it’ for a job candidate. A glowing reference can almost certainly trigger a job offer whereas a poor reference is likely to stop the recruitment process altogether.

As a result, it is essential that job candidates put considerable thought and effort into finding the right people who can act as referees when they apply for a job. Here are some tips:

Selecting a referee

A referee will be asked to answer some questions about your recent work performance, and the skills and abilities you can bring to a role. As a result, a referee should be someone that you have worked with – and ideally, someone who has managed you or was a senior person at an organisation where you have worked, and can comment on the job that you did. A referee also needs to talk about your recent work history – which means, it is advisable to only choose people who can answer questions about your work performance over the last three years or less.

If you haven’t been in the workforce very long or you are just starting your career, you may have to apply some lateral thinking when choosing your referees. Again, your target should be senior people who can talk about your abilities and skills. Consider sporting coaches, recent teachers or university tutors, senior people at organisations you have volunteered with and people who supervised any work placements/experience you may have completed.

Additionally, even though it may be tempting to provide details of family and friends as referees, this isn’t a good idea. Family and friends will (probably) only say nice things about you and can’t provide an accurate assessment of your work performance. Consequently, these type of referees aren’t usually contacted by recruiters/employers.

Finally, remember you will have to provide at least two referees when applying for a job. This means that when thinking about potential referees, it might be a worth developing a starting list of four to five people you can approach in the first instance.

Organise your referees early

If possible, you should try and set up your referees prior to making a job application. Most recruiters and employers don’t expect to wait long periods of time, nor will they hold up the recruitment process, whilst you make contact with people and establish who will be your referees. Consequently, as soon as you commence a new job search or begin putting in an application, you should start organising who your referees will be.

Get their okay first

Always ask someone to be a referee for you before including their details in a job application or providing their contact information to a recruiter. Apart from the need to be courteous and check that this person is happy to be a referee for you, you also need to know this person is available.

Referee checks are usually conducted within a short period of time and therefore the referee you have chosen needs to be around to talk about you. They may be going on holidays, or have a very busy period of work coming up which may mean they will be unreachable when recruiters/employers contact them. Unfortunately, if they are not available, this means they can’t comment on your work performance which may impact on your ability to win the job you have applied for.

When asking someone to be a referee for you, consider using a phone call or meeting rather than a text or an email. After all, you are asking them to provide an assessment of you, your abilities and skills, and they are giving up their own time to do this. As a result, your approach should be personal.

Make it easy for the referee

If someone agrees to be a referee for you, make the process as easy as you can for them. Give them some information about the role you are applying for or are the type of work you are interested in, and offer them a copy of your CV. Importantly, also explain to your referee why you have chosen them so they understand what they should emphasise when providing a reference. For example:

“I was hoping you could be a referee for my application for an administration officer position. I was the receptionist when you were a senior manager at Company X and I thought you could tell the recruiter about my strengths performing this role.”


“Given you were my coach last season, I thought you may be able to tell the recruiter about my attitude to training, the way I interacted with my team mates and how I approached every game.”

Finally, make sure you ask the referee the best phone number for the recruiter/employer to contact them on. If you don’t have these details correct, the recruiter/employer may not be able to take their reference.

Keep in contact

Once you have locked in your referees, it is crucial that you keep them in the loop. Give them an update every so often on how your job search is going and if you have applied for a job, let them know and supply them with any relevant information about the role. If you have provided their details to a recruiter, let them know when they are likely to hear from recruiters so they can expect and possibly prepare for the call. If you do this, it is very likely the referee will let you know if they have been contacted by the recruiter and may happily give you a rundown on the conversation they had.

If you are successful with a job application after referee checks, it is important to contact your referees to let them know and thank them for their assistance. They will probably be very happy they could help you – and you never know, you may need their assistance again some time, so this small act of gratitude may pay further dividends in the future!

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