Writing your perfect CV can be a long and sometimes frustrating process. Finding the right form of words, selecting the details that really sell your unique combination of skills and experiences, and presenting it all in an appealing and simple package is quite a tough gig. And then, just when you think you’re finished, you need to think about choosing references.
Here you might find another thorny issue: who to use as a reference. Of course, you want someone who will respond to a reference request positively, someone you trust, and whose position is relevant to the role you’re looking for. But relationships at work aren’t always that straightforward, so having a selection of possible referees you can draw on is a big help.
Although for some positions listing out your referees is mandatory at the point of application, there are many roles where a CV marked ’references on request’ will suffice. If this is the case for you, then you’ve bought yourself some time to think. Here are our suggestions about which referees might work for you depending on the role you are seeking at the time. Now all you have to do is give them a call!
1. Your Last Boss
Most of the time, your last boss is your optimal choice as referee. They can vouch for your ability and attitude, and they can confirm that the details listed on your CV are accurate. How you go about broaching the subject depends on your relationship with your boss and the job search situation you’re in. If you’re looking for a new position because of redundancy, for example, listing out your boss as reference at the point of applying is fine. If you’re job hunting in secret, however, you may have to take a different tact.
The good news is that recruiting managers are human too. Simply adding a ’reference on request’ note and explaining your situation in an interview will be fine.
It’s worth bearing in mind that many companies are reluctant to give too much information in a reference. Often, your request will be passed straight onto an administrator or a HR manager who will simply give a minimal amount of details straight from your personal record file.
In the UK, for example, it’s mandatory for employers to provide ex-employees with a reference confirming that they did work for the business, the relevant dates, and the last position held. Providing details such as reasons for leaving, absence record or disciplinary notes is highly unusual, although it’s a small world and this type of detail might be informally shared.
The limited amount of information typically included in a reference might be of comfort if you had a testy relationship with your boss but still feel he would be the best referee to support your application.
2. The Manager From Your Work Experience or Internship
Of course, “your last boss” isn’t always possible if you’re at an early stage in your career, a new grad, or even looking to include several referees in one application. An alternative who can still confirm your professional credentials is a manager from an internship or industrial placement.
Any sort of work experience is worth considering, especially if you got on well there. Simply call your boss or the HR department and see how they can help you. If you had a relatively informal work experience, then you might even get a more detailed “personal” reference. If you did a good job there, this is all to the good!
3. Your Teacher or Lecturer
It’s normal for younger jobseekers to use a teacher, lecturer or another educational professional like a head of year or house master as a referee. Because references written in these circumstances aren’t constrained by concerns about litigation or legal requirements, they’re far more likely to be personal and detailed. Whether or not that’s a good thing might depend on your track record at school! If you were the class clown, you might want to reconsider this option.
A reference from a teacher or lecturer is also useful if you are looking for a job in a field directly related to your study. Getting your technology teacher to vouch for your abilities and help you land your first coding job, for example, might be a smart move. Of course, if you’re applying for further study, or will be expected to undertake further study as part of a new job, then an educational reference can be a great option too.
4. A Volunteering Connection
If you volunteer regularly for a local or national charity, this might provide valuable connections who can act as referees for you. In some cases, your volunteer work might even be more relevant to the position than any previous paid employment. This is especially likely if you’re trying to change fields and have been gathering experience and exposure through volunteering.
How well this will work depends largely on the sort of volunteering work you have done. To be effective, you don’t need to have been a volunteer in exactly the same field as the job you’re applying for; for example, experience gathered in caring volunteer work such as working in a local hospital might be relevant for applications for roles looking for these caring personality traits, from nursing to childcare or working in schools or care homes. On the other hand, if you want to work in accountancy, a reference from the local dogs’ home might not carry so much weight.
If you use a volunteer connection as a referee, it is worth explaining the sort of skills you need to demonstrate for the position you’re applying for. That way, the writer can focus more on the aspects of your volunteer work that might be relevant to future employers, such as your communication skills, leadership and the ability to learn new skills easily.
5. A Community Leader
A final solid choice of referee is a community leader such as a scout, guide or cadet leader, sports club coach, church group organiser, and so on. If you’ve been heavily involved in any such community groups, then consider whether using them as referees might add value to your application.
If you can arrange a reference from a prominent community leader, then this might be a good choice, particularly if you can draw links between the particular role you played in the community group and the role you’re applying for. Gently suggest that they frame the reference in ’business’ terms for the best possible outcome.
A strong reference is the final piece of your job search jigsaw. Most offers are made “subject to satisfactory references”, making choosing the right people essential. Don’t leave the decision too late, and make sure you talk to anyone you list as referees in advance to check they’re happy to provide a reference. Use this as an opportunity also to check the best address and contact details for your chosen referees and ensure you don’t suffer any delay!
The wait for your reference to be received and confirmed “satisfactory” can be a worrying time. You’ve just landed yourself a dream job but what happens next is completely out of your hands. By choosing the people suggested here, you can rest easy as you wait for them to send off your all-important reference.