Job references: a brief guide

If a hiring manager’s request for job references has left you scratching your head, you’re in the right place. In this simple guide, we’ll explain what they’re used for, who your job referees could be, and what to put in a reference letter. Finally, you can use our email template to send to your job referees. No matter at which stage you are in your career, it’s important to put together a solid list of references. They can bump up your credibility, and boost your chances of landing a new job. So, are you ready to jump in? Let’s begin by explaining what a job reference is.

What is a job reference?

A job reference is given by people who can vouch for your experience, skills, and behaviour. Your job referees are valuable sources of information for employers because they can reveal more details about you than what’s in your CV or cover letter. They can verify your work history and give your application more credibility (if you’ve got nothing to hide, of course!). They can also give your future employer a better sense of your personality, and what it’s like working with you.

Job references are often listed at the end of a CV and include the referee’s contact details. Employers will typically contact your job referees when they’re in a pinch about which candidate to choose. However, with a large number of applicants, this isn’t always the best course of action. Employers can request a reference letter from one or more of your job referees at any stage in the application process. Giving job referees a template to work with can speed up the process, and ensures they don’t miss out on any important information to give your future employer.

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Types of job referees

Giving job references can be done by just about anyone. Ideally, it should be someone who you’ve worked closely with for a number of years. They should know you well enough to highlight your best qualities for the new role. So, who can give a reference for a job? Here are the 3 most common groups of people you can approach to be your reference:

1. Employment job referees

Employment referees (or work referee) are people you’ve worked with in a professional setting. So who can be a professional reference? They could include a manager, supervisor, colleague, co-worker, or anyone else you’ve worked closely with. They’re some of the best job references because they have valuable insights to your professional skills. Your employment referees know how you work with deadlines, conduct meetings, give presentations, or organise your tasks. If anyone knows your work ethic, it’s them.

2. Academic job referees

Your academic referees are those who taught or supervised you in an educational setting, such as a teacher, personal coach, or academic advisor. They make for great job references because they have valuable information about your abilities to achieve results and carry out projects or assignments. They likely spend considerable time with you in the classroom, which gives them insight into your character and knowledge of a subject. Many skills and abilities you display in an educational setting can be relevant to a real-world job. If you don’t have any working experience yet, these are the job referees to approach.

3. Character job referees

So what do you do if you have no references in a professional or academic setting? You default to people in your inner circle, such as a close friend, sports coach, neighbour, housemate, or anyone else you spend your free time with. You should choose a personal reference for a job who understands the skills your new role requires. Simply describing you based on their relationship with you may not be beneficial to your application. It’s important to instruct them on how to write a job reference, since this doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

What does a job reference look like?

A job reference often comes in the form of a letter or as a list of contacts at the end of a CV. The letter is normally more general in nature than a recommendation letter, and is not aimed at a specific requestor. A job reference letter is often given to ex-employees or students for future use. If done correctly, it should be general enough to be sent to multiple employers. If you’re going to instruct one of your referees to write a job reference letter, make sure it includes the following elements:

  • Their contact information
  • A greeting
  • A brief introduction about themselves
  • Their connection to you
  • How long they’ve known you
  • What your role was in their company or program
  • Valuable skills you have demonstrated (with specific examples)
  • Positive behavioural traits you have shown
  • How they believe you can contribute to the company
  • How they believe you will be successful in your new role
  • An offer to be contacted

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Job reference request template

If you want to know how to get references for a job, it’s simple; just email them and explain why you’d like to have them as a reference. Whoever you decide to contact, understand that some people may not feel comfortable writing a letter or being contacted. If they decline your request, respect their decision and approach someone else. Are you writing to someone who you know has little to no experience with reference letters? Make sure to send them a clear professional reference example or template. Here’s an example of an email you could send to request a job reference letter:

Dear [Reference Name],
I hope you're doing well. In the past few weeks, I’ve been on the lookout for a new role in the [Name of Industry] and I’m eager to start sending in applications. Would you consider being my job referee? I feel that you know me better than anyone, and can accurately describe my experience, skills, and behaviour. Would you be willing to write a job reference letter for me or be my verbal referee?
If you're willing to do so, I can send over all the relevant information about what to include in the reference letter. Please reach out if you have any questions for me.
Kind regards,
[Your Name]

Job references: in short

If you really want to make your job applications count, consider keeping multiple job reference letters on hand. Not only will it speed up the application process, but it will score you extra points with your future employer. Also make sure to include two or three solid references on your CV to boost your credibility, and to increase your chances of landing a job. So who can be a professional reference? These could include:

  • Employment or work references:
    People you’ve worked with in a professional setting.
  • Academic references:
    People who have taught or supervised you in an educational setting.
  • Character reference:
    People in your inner circle who can vouch for your skills, experience, and character.

Once you’ve chosen who you want to have as a job referee, make sure to give them clear instructions on how to write a job reference. While it may come naturally to some, it isn’t as easy for others. You can use our handy email template to request a letter from multiple sources. Need help on how to write a CV? Click through to find a useful guide to help you create a killer resume with the help of our free CV maker. Has your employer invited you for an interview? Congrats! Click through to our interview tips to read all about how to ace an interview.

FAQs about job references:

  • What is a work reference?

  • A work reference is someone you worked with in a professional setting. An example of a work reference would be a manager, direct supervisor, colleague, co-worker, or anyone else you work closely with. References in your industry are great sources of information; they are able to comment on your organisational skills, teamwork, reliability and other qualities that employers are looking for in candidates.

  • Is a job reference letter the same as a recommendation letter?

  • There are slight differences between a job reference letter and a recommendation letter. A job reference letter is a general endorsement or verification of a person’s character, knowledge, and skills. Reference letters aren’t generally directed towards a specific role or company. A recommendation letter is more formal and detailed.

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