Video on references and referees

Career Snapshot: referees and references

References are requested by potential employers or postgraduate supervisors to confirm that the details you have given during the application process are accurate.

These references are provided by referees who are people that you have nominated on your application. Most applications in the UK do not accept pre-written reference letters. Normally you will require two referees but sometimes you may need more.

Get started by viewing the Career Snapshot: Referees and References video to get an overview of what referees and references are, and then use the sections below and downloadable resources for further support.  

Referees and references

Providing referees

Organisations will ask you to give them the details of your referees at different stages during the application process.

  • Initial application – there is normally a common section on an application where you are asked to give the name, title and contact details for your referees. Usually two referees are requested, however, for academic applications like PhD programmes organisations will usually request three.
  • Before attending an interview – once you have passed the shortlisting process you may need to complete a form before you attend an interview where you are asked for the details of your referees.
  • Before you sign a contract – some organisations only use referees to confirm your past work history so will only request them once you have been offered the job.

Different types of referee

There are different types of referee that can be requested.

  • Academic referee – this is a person from your university who can attest to your academic ability. Usually this will be your personal tutor but you could ask your project or lab supervisors who have worked more closely with you. For postgraduate applications two academic referees is fine however for non-research related roles, if you have a professional referee, this is preferable. Your department may have a process for requesting referees so it is best to ask your personal tutor or the facility office first.
  • Professional referee – this is your supervisor or a manager from any work, volunteering or placement experience you have had.
  • Personal referee – this is someone who can attest to your character, personality or reputation. It is often someone of high standing in the community such as a doctor, teacher, lawyer, religious or community leader. This sort of referee is less common in the UK.

Choosing your referee

When choosing the best referee, consider who will be able to provide the most information on your abilities. Here are some tips to help your referees through the process as you may need to ask them to referee again in the future.

  • Ask permission – always ask if the person is okay to be a referee for you and let them know a timeframe of when they may be contacted. That way, if they are not going to be available, you can discuss with them who else you could ask instead.
  • Give them the information – let your referee know what sort of jobs you are applying for and give them a copy of your CV so they can easily write a targeted reference for you when the time comes.
  • Keep them updated – as you progress through the recruitment process, let your referee know so they can get a better idea of when they may be asked for a reference. At the end of the process, it is always courteous to thank them whether you get the job or not.