work references

4 things you should always do with work references

Work references can make or break a job application, so here's what you need to know before selecting anyone.

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Do you or don’t you list work references on your resume?

The jury is still out on that one, depending which career’s expert you ask. But either way most new employers will want to speak to your referees to check your skills are relevant to the job and the pay, and ultimately that you’re not full of furphies.

So what can you do 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 as a referee only to find out that they bagged out your work ethic. Nightmare!

This is why it’s always best to ask your references first if they are willing to be a referee.

They may be prevented from supplying a reference due to an organisational ‘no reference’ policy, or may simply not be comfortable providing one.

It’s better that you find this out before including them on your list of referees, rather than a prospective employer contacting them to request a reference only to be refused.

Brief your referee on the role you’re applying for. This gives them the chance to think about what aspects of your previous role to highlight and possible questions 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 explaining how well you work alone and thrive in an autonomous position 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 available to provide a reference.

There’s no point listing them as a referee if they are away for four months on safari or if they’ve changed email address or phone number.

If a prospective employer has incorrect details for referees or is unable to reach them it could reflect badly on you and affect your application.


Try to provide a referee who can attest to your performance within the past three years.

Anything prior to this generally not relevant.


You want your reference taken seriously, so have it provided by a credible source, ideally a direct manager or supervisor. A friend or colleague is probably unable to provide a reference with enough weight to satisfy a prospective employer and may be seen as biased.

Having your referees contacted generally means you’ve reached the final stage of the recruitment process and may already be the preferred choice.

Don’t let outdated details or a surprised, unsuitable referee spoil your chances at success. A few minutes work on your part is all it takes to ensure your referees help rather than hinder your application.

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