References are an essential but often overlooked part of most job applications. Indeed, an exceptional reference can be your first-class ticket for a trip to a successful job application. Our handy guide outlines the best practice for obtaining a great employment reference.

Job references are the most powerful tool that employers can use to establish whether you are a good fit for their vacancy or not. It is unlikely you will be offered the job before your employer has reviewed and feels satisfied with your reference.  

As much as seeking a reference might seem an easy chore when looking for employment, there are a few things to consider regarding this matter. 

Who should I ask for a reference?

First, knowing if you need a personal or professional reference is a good starting point. 

If you are only starting out in the employment world, or you have not worked in a while, a personal reference from somebody who really knows your skills and qualities is acceptable. 

The key element is to only ask someone you know very well. You must be certain that the referee is a reliable person, who will respond to the employers in a timely manner and positively. 

If you need a professional reference instead, former employers, ex-colleagues, or even old customers, all make a good source of knowledge to your new employer. 

Note that you should always choose a professional reference over a personal one, where possible. 

When is the best time to ask for a reference?

Ideally, you should start looking for a reference as soon as your job searching begins. This way, your chosen referee will not feel overwhelmed and rushed. 

Likewise, you will have a list of references at hand when your new employer asks for it. You will need their name and contact information.  

In addition, asking for a reference every time you change employment and embark on a new journey is exceptionally good practice. 

How can I ask somebody for a reference?

When it comes to how to ask someone for a reference, try and think about what we discussed in terms of finding the right person in the first place. 

It is crucial to find a reliable referee. Therefore, instead of asking questions like: “Can you please provide me with a professional reference?”, you should try with: “Do you know my skills well enough to provide me with a professional reference?”. 

This way, you will avoid poor quality references. 

Once you have a few promising reference contacts, you should make sure that they receive an updated version of your CV and that you inform them of what kind of occupation you are looking for. As a result, they will highlight the skills and qualities that are most relevant to your new role. 

If you need your referees to send a letter of reference for a specific job, make sure to inform them of any deadlines and share the recipient’s address. 

How to effectively manage my references

Although some employers might prefer to contact your referees directly via email or telephone, it is still good practice to have some recommendation letters available in case your new employer asks for them. Even though times are changing quickly, many employers still request written letters. 

It can be a good idea to ask for a reference letter when you are graduating, or if you are leaving a job. That being the case, you will receive fresh and accurate references. 

After you receive your references, it is highly recommendable to stay in touch with your reference contacts and keep them updated on your professional life. This will increase the opportunity of being remembered on a positive note, which will consequently result in better references in the future. 

Do not forget to send a ‘Thank you’ message to your referees, even if you are not successful in your job searching. They will certainly appreciate your thought. 

For further information to help make sure you submit an outstanding job application, visit our job application advice hub, where you can find tailored advice on how to write a stand-out CV and cover letter.