Most prospective employers will require you to provide referee details at some point during the recruitment process.  They use these details to obtain information about your ‘on-the-job’ performance.  This can obviously make or break the success of your application. So what can you do to give yourself the best chance of getting a great reference – apart from having been a model employee of course!

Ask First

Imagine listing a previous employer who then declines to provide a reference when asked.  It may not have anything to do with you personally.  They may simply be prevented from supplying a reference due to an organisational ‘no reference’ policy.  Or, their opinion of your work performance may not be something they’re comfortable discussing.  Either way it doesn’t reflect well on you, and wastes the opportunity for having a great reference provided.  This is why it’s important to ask your referees if they are willing to act as referee before supplying their details. It’s better that you find out that they’re not willing to act as a referee, rather than a prospective employer finding out for you.

Brief your referee

When contacting your referee to obtain their consent, also brief them on the role(s) you’re applying for.  This gives them the chance to think about what aspects of your performance to highlight and what they may be asked.  It may throw your referee off-balance if they’re ready to sing the praises of their previous finance manager’s technical skills only to hear that you’ve applied for a role as a children’s entertainer.  Or if they start to explain how you thrive in an autonomous environment before being told that you’re looking at a team-based role. 


Stay in contact with your referee.  Ensure that the details you provide are current and that they are able to provide a reference.  There’s no point listing them as a referee if they are away for four months on safari and uncontactable.  It’s also pointless supplying old details if they’ve changed their email address or phone number.  If a prospective employer is unable to contact your referee it could reflect badly on you and affect your application.


Try to provide a referee who can attest to your work performance within the past 3 years.  Anything prior to this is generally not relevant.


You want your reference taken seriously, so have it provided by a credible source.  Ideally this will be a direct manager or supervisor.  A friend or colleague will most likely be seen as biased.

Having your referees contacted generally means that you’ve reached the final stage of the recruitment process.  You may even be the preferred candidate.  Don’t let outdated details or a surprised or unsuitable referee spoil your chances of success.  A few minutes work on your part is all it takes to ensure that your referees help rather than hinder your application. 


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Disclaimer:  Blogs posted by MMO HR Solutions are for information purposes only and do not constitute professional advice.  The reading/use of any blog posts does not form a consultant-client relationship and such reading/use should not be used as a substitute for professional advice.