Top Tips for Jobseekers: Work References

Guides, Jobsearch, Jobseeker / 23 November 2021

You’ve interviewed for the job, and it’s all gone wonderfully. The employer is interested. They’re talking contracts and perks and introducing you to the team. There’s just one more hurdle to vault over; the employer wants to see your work references.A work reference – or a job or professional reference – is a statement that is generally requested from your most recent employer. It outlines how you performed for that company and, with any luck, it confirms the good impression you’ve made at interview.

Work references are often the last thing on your mind when applying for a job but as the final obstacle to landing that new role, they should be handled as carefully as the rest of your application.

Top Tips for Jobseekers - Work References


The legal requirement

Your employer is not legally required to provide a reference unless you have a written agreement stating that this will happen, or you work in a regulated industry such as finance. If neither of those conditions apply, your employer can say no to a reference request.

If they do provide a reference, it must be fair and factual. The bare minimum that an employer can include in a reference is your job title, salary, and dates of employment.

Visit the website for more information on your employee rights related to references.


Do references belong on your CV?

The quick answer is ‘no’. Here’s why:

  • At the initial stage in a recruitment process, the employer just wants to know that you meet the job criteria, for instance, work experience and qualifications. They have no need to look at references this early on.
  • Your CV generally shouldn’t be longer than two pages. You may already have a lot of information to fit in. References take up room you can use more effectively to describe your experience and skills.
  • You may not know what kind of references the employer wants until later in the recruitment process.

By the way, including the phrase ‘References on request’ in your cv is also a no-no. It just isn’t necessary.


Who to ask for a reference

The most effective reference will be from your current or last employer but if you’re asked to provide more than one professional reference, you might like to ask:

  • past employers, especially if your current or last employer is likely to refuse a reference request or you worry that they’ll provide an unfavourable reference
  • managers whom you didn’t directly work for, but who experienced your work performance
  • co-workers

Remember to contact the people you would like to include on your list of references before you submit their name. It’s better for them to say no to you, than to your prospective employer.


Keep it relevant

Instead of having a static reference list that you use for every job application, it may be more effective to match the references to the vacancy.

Look at the skillset and experience required for the job. Which of your references knows about your use of those skills or your increasing work experience in that area?

This might take a little extra work on your part to source more potential references than you need for each application, but it will provide added flexibility on who you can ask.


Keep your references up-to-date

You’re not alone in looking for a new job. The people on your reference list may have moved on to different job titles and/or companies. This is another reason to contact everyone on your reference list before you submit it.

They might still be happy to provide a reference for you, or they may feel that it’s not relevant now that they have moved on. You won’t know unless you get in touch.


What if this is your first job?

If you’re applying for your first job, perhaps straight from school or as a graduate, then you may not have work or relevant references to hand. Don’t worry. There are plenty of people you can include on your reference list:

  • part-time job manager
  • head-teacher, teacher, or lecturer
  • family friend who works in a relevant position or at a professional level
  • where you took part in voluntary work, your team leader

Make it clear how you know this person and as with any professional reference, contact them first to ask if you can include them on your reference list.


Wrapping it up

As a jobseeker, maintaining a list of references can often fall to the bottom of the pile. However, the support provided by that network can greatly improve your chances of landing your next job.

For help with your job search, have a look at our Ultimate Jobseeker Guide.

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