How to get a reference

How to get a reference

‘Do you have any references?’

For many jobseekers, obtaining references for job applications is almost something of an afterthought. And, if you’re not used to asking for them, they can raise some difficult questions.

Who are the best people to ask for references? Can I get them from my friends and family, or do they have to be professional contacts? And, perhaps most pressingly, what’s the best way to approach someone to give me a reference?

To help clear up the confusion, here’s our advice on how to acquire the best references for your job applications:

What are references?

To put it simply, references are people employers can ask to vouch for your character. Whereas your CV is your chance to sell yourself to employers, references allow them to check that you’ve been truthful in all that you’ve said, and therefore live up to expectations. They may also be used to learn more about how you interacted with staff at the company.

Why are references important for job applications?

References give hiring managers the chance to talk to previous employers or colleagues, and find out more about your personality.

How many references should I have?

This number may differ, depending on your profession. However, we’d always suggest having two solid references as a general rule of thumb.

Who should I ask to be my references?

Former bosses, colleagues and even clients all make good references. Employers are most interested in gaining an unbiased view of your personality, work ethic and performance. For this reason, friends and family members should generally be avoided. No matter how professional your relationship with your mum is.

If you don’t have much in the way of work experience, asking a form tutor, former teacher or professor, is also acceptable.

The key is to ask people you trust, and those who you can count on to be positive about your contributions.


Can an employer give a bad reference?

By law, an employer can’t provide a reference that is in any way untruthful. In fact, an unfairly bad reference with misleading information could be grounds for legal action.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to receive a bad reference. If you were disciplined at your previous job, an employer is well within their rights to include this information – providing they can back it up with tangible evidence (e.g. warning letters).

If you think the reference you’ve been given is inaccurate, and it caused you to miss out on an employment opportunity (e.g. a job offer was withdrawn), you may be able to claim damages in court.

To find out more, get in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Do I need to actually ask someone to be my reference?

Yes. Never use someone as a reference without their permission. Even if you consider it a foregone conclusion that your choice will be complimentary, giving a heads up provides at least some indication of what it is they will say.

Also, it’s just plain polite.

How do I ask someone to be my reference?

This will generally depend on your relationship with the person in question. If you are in regular contact with them, asking them face-to-face, or on the phone, is the best way to approach the subject. That way you can explain exactly what kind of jobs you are applying for, and thank them accordingly.

If you haven’t spoken for a while, or if you’re aware that they have a very busy schedule to keep to, sending a polite email to your perspective reference is a great way to get the conversation started.

Do I need to include references somewhere on my CV?

In many instances, you shouldn’t need to provide a reference before you reach the interview stage.

If you want to include them on your CV, however, a name and (current) number are more than enough. And if you haven’t spoken to them in a while, you may want to check the latter.

Stating that ‘references are available on request’ is also generally acceptable.

Should I bring references to my interview?

This is recommended. Even if they’re not requested, it’s a good idea to bring a record of your references – just in case. Not only is it a practical option, it will also demonstrate your excellent preparation and planning skills.

Just to clarify, we don’t mean bringing the individuals themselves… (regardless of how open to the idea they may be).


Need more CV advice?

It takes an employer just seven seconds to save or reject a job applicant’s CV. This means creating a succinct CV is absolutely vital if you want to land that all-important interview.

To find out how to make your CV stand out from the crowd, buy James Reed’s new book: The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview.



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One thought on “How to get a reference

  1. Sean Durrant - December 22, 2015 at 10:56

    Using Linkedin recommendations could be a good starting point to gathering references