How to get a great reference for your CV

By: Steve Oldroyd

When a potential employer intends to check your references it’s a positive sign that you are a strong candidate for the job. References are taken up in the latter stages of the job selection process, and are intended to verify the information you’ve provided in your CV and as an additional way of an employer finding out more about your performance at work to assess whether you will be a good fit for their organisation.

The vast majority of employers will pursue at least one of reference, so it’s important that you choose your referees carefully – you need to be confident that they will give positive feedback about you. Good references have the potential to tip the balance in your favour. Likewise, a poor reference – or one that is non-committal – may lose you the job you want so much.

Don’t rely on an old supply of ‘to whom it may concern’ letters

First and foremost, throw away any generic letters of recommendation you may possess. They hold no credibility and employers want to be able to communicate (by email or phone) with people who will answer specific questions.

So who should you ask?

Referees will typically be asked to answer questions relating to your professional conduct, skills, strengths and weaknesses, as well as verifying that what you’ve said about your experience is accurate.

Convention dictates that your most recent employer should be given as one reference. However, if you don’t have a good relationship with your line manager, left under difficult circumstances or were sacked, there are other people you can approach. You could ask work colleagues who hold a reasonably senior position or contact the HR department.

Other valid referees are clients or customers, suppliers or other business associates. Make sure that they are aware of you ability to solve problems, make positive contributions or increase sales – and that they can talk about you as a professional with knowledge and conviction.

Contact your chosen referees first!

Make sure you have permission to put forward their names – they need to be willing participants in the process. In most instances, employers, line managers or clients will be happy to provide a reference, but if any doubts arise when asking them, avoid using them.

Asking people to provide a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile is also a good move towards obtaining a formal reference.

Brief your referees

Provide your referees with a copy of your CV. They will be asked to verify details, so they need to be aware of the information you’ve provided to potential employers. Tell them about the jobs you are applying for and why you are a suitable candidate, and remind them about the work you did with or for them. This will help your referee be more aware of how they should respond if they are approached to provide a reference.

Don’t include reference details on your CV

Always use the old favourite ‘references available on request’. You can certainly have a list with you during an interview that can then be handed over. Or you may wish to provide them after the interview, particularly if you want to select from your list the referees who may be more suitable for that particular position.

Make sure the details are correct

Get complete information for each reference – referee’s name, job title, company name and address, email and phone numbers and any preferred times when they can be contacted. Any details you pass on to a potential employer have to be correct and up to date.

Say thank you!

Once you’ve accepted a job remember to thank all those who may have provided references – whether they actually did or not. Anyone who has been willing to help you should be thanked out of courtesy. And don’t forget, in a few years you may be looking for your next position and will need references again.

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