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Getting references right

17 November 2020

By Executives Team

Getting references right

Picture the scene, you’ve just spotted your dream job is available. Your next thought is, ‘Am I prepared?’

You’ve revised your CV many times; you’ve made sure that the online portfolio has been catered to the job and you’ve got a covering-letter ready to send out.

But is this enough? It’s time to think about references.

Although a difficult element of the job application process, a reference remains helpful in giving a potential employer another insight into who you are, and how you work in certain situations. There may be elements that you’ve missed. After all, we’ve all got an impression of ourselves, but a reference from someone else can really help a recruiter build an image of you, backing up your work-ethic and emphasising your suitable personality traits.

Looking for References

First of all; you could easily go through your previous employers and Facebook contacts and simply ask for a reference, but there may be a chance that the reference they give about you will barely be relevant to the job you’re applying to, so make them count as well as making sure that whoever you ask for the reference can relate to some of what’s required for the position.

You don’t want too many references that could form a full-biography of you from the start of your career to the present day. You want to give a recruiter a better idea of who you are to other people, but not too much that it could skew the first face-to-face meeting.

At the most, there should be three references;

  • Former Employers

  • Friend

  • Academic


Don’t worry if you only have two of the above; as long as there’s a maximum of three references to hand over, the recruiter will be able to form an opinion.

Asking for References

The next step is reaching out. As mentioned before, look to those who will be able to shout about your skills that best relate to the job you’re applying to. If you worked with someone who managed you in an office, and you’re applying for a manager’s position in the same field of work, then that’s a great start for the recruiter to keep you in mind for an interview.

The format of the reference is also imperative; some send a paragraph, or an e-mail, or even a phone-call. But the best approach known has been to ask for a reference in the form of a letter. This can be typed up and saved as a .pdf so it can be printed out or e-mailed to the recruiter as they so wish.

The advantage of this is that it makes the reference personable to the recruiter and the employer; it gives the tone of an authoritative viewpoint, with credence to the candidate and their past skills.

One last avenue for references, which has been growing in recent years, has been LinkedIn. When you scroll down to the bottom of someone’s profile, there will be a ‘Recommendations’ section. This shows connections that have written about their time working with the individual, and it also shows recommendations that the person has written themselves. It’s seen as a far easier method for some recruiters to look on someone’s LinkedIn profile and scroll to this section, as you can instantly read a reference without having to request and wait for one to arrive.

There you have it; an overview of a reference and how to cater it towards the job role. The main takeaway here to remember, is to make sure that the references you request are relevant to the job you’re applying to. A character reference may stray the furthest from this, but it can still help to be relevant to the job you’re applying for.


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