Providing References

  | James Innes

Most offers of employment will be subject to your prospective employer being able to obtain satisfactory references. Indeed, some employers will withhold making an offer of employment until they have finished obtaining references.

Of course, not all employers will bother with this formality. With people being increasingly worried, for legal reasons, about giving anyone a bad reference, the whole references game can often seem a fairly pointless exercise. And it has, of course, been known for an individual’s current employer to give a glowing reference just because they are keen for them to leave!

Nevertheless, many employers will still pursue references and, in certain lines of work, they can take the issue of references very seriously indeed.

Who to choose?

Naturally, you need to choose carefully! Their comments could have a significant impact on your application.

Traditionally, you are expected to be able to provide details of at least two referees – usually one ‘personal’ (often a former teacher or lecturer) and one ‘professional’ (usually your current or previous employer). However, it is not unheard of for an employer to want to check not only with your current employer but also with your previous employer and maybe even your employer before that. It all depends on how thorough they want to be – and how sensitive a role it is for which you are being recruited.

How to proceed?

Whilst you could just hand out names and contact details on request, it is much better etiquette to actually contact your potential referees before releasing their details. Normally you won’t have to worry about this until the interview stage but some employers will insist on having details of referees up front – as will some recruitment agencies.

Generally, it doesn’t hurt to start getting in touch with potential referees early. This also gives them a chance to prepare what they will say about you – and gives you a chance to decide if they really are the best choice.

It is best practice not to include details of referees on your CV. They’re a waste of valuable space! They clutter it up and, more importantly, you will find that your referees get pestered unnecessarily by time wasters. By the time they have handled their umpteenth enquiry of the day, they are a lot less likely to say nice things about you! A simple sentence saying that references are available upon request is sufficient.

Depending on your relationship with your referee, you may find it is quickest and easiest to just pick up the phone. However, in most cases a brief but courteous letter will be appreciated.

Very occasionally you may be expected to secure a formal written reference yourself but in the vast majority of cases all you need to do is obtain permission to release your referees’ contact details to any interested parties. It’s then up to your prospective employer to decide how they wish to proceed.

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