What is a Good Reference and How Do I Get One?

At some stage in the job application process the recruiter may ask you for two or three references (or just one if you’re particularly lucky!) This can be extremely nerve-wracking at times, especially if you are a new graduate with a lack of experience and as such, not many options for referees. However, whether you are a fresh faced graduate with little or no experience, or a professional who has been out of work for a long while, there is always a way of getting references. Read on to find out more…

Why Do I Need a Reference?

The need for references is fairly simple. It is so that the recruiter can verify your details. You can make up anything you want on your CV and if you have good interview technique, you will be able to convince the interviewer you are the right person for the job. Also quite often people think they are better at their job than they actually are. So it is easy to understand why interviewers would want to check with your references that you were telling the truth.

What should a reference letter include?

  • The letter should be written in standard business letter format; opening with ‘Dear Mr / Ms’or ‘To Whom it may concern’ and closing with ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Best regards’ .  
  • First paragraph should include a summary of what your job title responsibilities were and dates of employment. Or in the case of a personal reference, how long you have known each other for.
  • The second paragraph should describe your skills, performance and your attributes.
  • The conclusion should summarise why you are being recommended for employment.
  • Contact details should also be included in case further information or clarification is needed. 

Here's a basic example...

Who Can I Use As a Reference

If you are a fresh faced graduate, you may wonder ‘How do I get a reference if I have never been employed?’ Well it is simple enough: use your favourite lecturers from University or even the supervisor from any volunteer work you have done. The point is that they can speak with authority about how hard your work ethic is. Even the coach of a team you were a member of can be used as a reference as they can verify your personality and character. Just remember not to use people who you are related to!

Remember to Keep the Reference Relevant!

An important thing to remember is just like any part of the application process it is best to tailor your references to the specific job. Of course this is not always possible. An example would be; if you are applying for a customer service role, and you have previously worked as a cleaner and bar attendant, try to get a reference from your manager at the bar. Working behind a bar is great experience for customer service roles! If you are applying for a job that involves working on your own initiative, get the manager from your cleaning job to verify your ability to work on your own!

Don’t Forget the Thank you Note

Once you figure out who you are going to use as your references, what do you do? It is imperative that you ask the person’s permission before you use them as a reference. If you are aware they are going to get a call try and warn them beforehand so that they are expecting it and also so that they remember who you are. If they are not expecting a phone call they may not answer it. 

Don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note or phone call. This is especially important if you actually land the job, as you can be almost certain that they gave you a good reference. It is being polite and it means that you will continue to get a good reference from them if you ever need one in the future!

References are not always needed; it depends on the company and recruiter. However, if you do not have any references ready, then it may cause problems for you. With job applications and interviews you have to be prepared for everything. The more prepared you are, the better you will look to the employer and this will set you higher than some of the other candidates.