Video on references and referees

Career Snapshot: referees and references

A potential employer or postgraduate supervisor will want to know that the information you have provided in the recruitment process is accurate. 

A referee is a person who can help confirm this by providing a reference. Normally you will require two referees but sometimes you may need more.

Get started by viewing the video here - Career Snapshot: References 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

Choosing your referee

Whoever you use as a referee it is important to check that they are happy and able to do so. You should always choose people who will be best able to confirm your skills and credibility in a professional and/or academic context. It is important to note that referees who are friends or family members are not acceptable as they are considered biased! So who can you use?

Academic referee(s)

It is common for students and recent graduates to provide a university referee; this will usually be your personal tutor however if you have done a substantial amount of project work that directly links to your application you may choose to use your project supervisor or a lecturer who knows you well. It is perfectly acceptable to give two university referees (e.g. your personal tutor and a project supervisor) and this is usually a requirement for postgraduate study however for non-study related applications it can be better to give one academic referee and one other referee (see following sections) if possible. 


Professional referee(s)

It can be helpful to provide an appropriate person from any employment, work experience, industrial placement or voluntary role you have done. Ideally you would want to use a direct line manager or supervisor for this referee but if in doubt check with the organisation to find who the most appropriate person may be. Prospective employers (and to a certain degree postgraduate supervisors) are interested in any work experience you have had; a line manager from a bar, restaurant or shop can provide excellent testimony to your work ethic even though the work may not be directly connected to the role you are applying to.

Personal referee(s)

For some occupations you may be asked to provide a personal reference (often called a “character witness”) who can attest to your character, personality and reputation rather than direct mention to academic or professional work. A good personal referee is likely to be provided by someone who has a “good standing within the community” meaning that they are seen to be honest, fair and respectable e.g. a doctor, teacher, lawyer, minister of religion, holder of office (e.g. member of governing body), senior armed service professional or community leader (e.g. youth group coordinator). Typically they are expected to have known you for a period of at least three to five years but if you really struggle to find an appropriate person it could be worth asking a family friend or neighbour if they can attest to your character.

When to use a referee

Essentially you must provide the name(s) and contact details of a referee when requested to do so within the recruitment process however it is often appropriate to include these or indicate that you are willing to provide these on various documents used in the application. Please note that it is not usual in the UK to send prospective employers written references yourself when you apply for a position – these are generally seen as biased and a waste of time. References are requested directly by the employer from your referee thus removing you (and any potential bias) from the process.

On your CV/résumé

It is often appropriate to include the name and contact details of your referee(s) or to state “references available on request” at the end of the document which can save you space to talk about yourself. 

On your cover letter

You may want to conclude your cover letter by expressing your thanks to them for considering your application and by stating that “I would be happy to provide details of referees if you require these”.

On your application Form

It is common for the full details (name, address, email, phone number and to state how they are known to you e.g. “personal tutor” or “manager”) to be provided in a specific section of an application form. Ensure you provide all the details requested. Frequently you may be asked to confirm if you are happy for your referee to be approached prior to interview; if you would prefer that your referee is not approached (i.e. they are your current boss and life could be difficult if they knew you wanted to leave their employment) then it is fine to say “no” at this stage until an offer is made if you are successful in the recruitment process.

Informing your referee

It is important to communicate your plans with your referee(s) before and during the recruitment process.

Ask permission

It is courteous to ask an individual if they will act as a referee and to ensure they are able to do so within the timeframe that you may need them. Academics are busy with their teaching and research and may be away from the College for a significant period of time e.g. on sabbatical leave for six months.

Share your plans

It is helpful for your referee to know a bit about you and the type of opportunities you are applying for so that they can emphasise relevant skills or experience in the reference they may be asked to provide. Give a copy of your CV and a few notes about the positions you are applying for to your referee; it could also be a good idea to offer to buy them a coffee and have a chat so that they can get to know you better.

Keep them updated

If you progress through the recruitment process to an interview then it is a good idea to inform your referee. By doing so you will make your referee aware of your progression and that a request for a reference (if you are successful at interview) is imminent.

Follow up

If you are successfully recruited then it is always courteous to thank your referee afterwards – you never know when you may want to use them again!