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Job References. All candidates, listen up, this is what you need to know when selecting your job referee.

What is a job reference? It is a person you put down as a reliable contact for perspective employers to connect and get to know you better via a third parties experience and view of you. This will cover a range of areas, such as what kind of individual you are in terms of work ethic, reliability and integrity. It will also cover your past employment, key strengths, skills and areas to improve on. Questions such as the type of management style that brought the best out in you, and how you got along with others in the workplace. All this is from the viewpoint of the referee.

A reference is an important final step of the hiring process. A company will not contact a referee if they were not considering employing the candidate. However, just because a candidate is so close to getting an offer of employment, the last hurdle can prevent such offerings to happen. Therefore, you need to be incredibly careful whom you put down as a reference.

Here are a few things you need to ask yourself and consider before selecting the person who will represent you.

  1. How well do you and the referee know each other?
  2. Do you or have you had a positive relationship with this person?
  3. If it is an ex-employer, did you end on constructive terms?
  4. Does this person hold a higher level of employment than you, for example – management or CEO?

By considering the above, it can help you to select a more appropriate contender for a referee. By going over each question again, we will explain why this thought process is important to do.

*Please note that in some circumstances, an organisation you’ve previously worked for will only allow you to use their HR department as a reference and will only be able to provide information that confirms you worked for them, under which title and the exact dates of employment; they may not be able to divulge any other information. 

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1. How well do you and the referee know each other?

If the referee does not know you very well, then they can struggle to answer questions about you, leaving a very incomplete reference check and leaving the hiring manager still wanting and needing more information about you.

By you not knowing this person well, can make you look unprofessional submitting a reference that is not connected to you in any significant way. It is also a danger adding someone you do not know, as you cannot be sure how they will speak of you. It is a risk. It is better to look for someone who knows you better. So do not go for a senior manager if you had little contact with them during your employment. It is best to put down the person you worked with closely, rather than someone who you believe will look impressive to your new employer.

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2. Do you or have you had a positive relationship with this person?

So you never got along? Then how can this person speak highly of you? Imagine you had a manager you just never clicked with; they always believed you did a mediocre job (even if that is not the case). Having this person then provide a glowing reference is very unlikely. In this scenario, instead of selecting a direct manager, you could consider providing a different team member or manager who you also worked with to be your reference. It is ok to cross over departments and seek alternative management, if that will provide you a more glowing reference. This is someone you may consider a work friend, even they were your superior, you still attended each others birthday celebrations, weddings, or shared personal life stories together. You trust each other and have a positive relationship.

3. If it is an ex-employer, did you end on constructive terms?

Believe it or not, there are candidates out there who put down managers as references from jobs they were fired from. A reference is not simply proof that you worked somewhere. It is a review of the type of employee you were whilst working there. So having been fired from a previous job raises alarm bells to other hiring managers. Select a referee whom you had a positive relationship with, as in the example for question two (2).


4. Does this person hold a higher level of employment than you, for example – management or CEO?

This is where the personal friend reference comes in. In many cases, having someone of a senior, authoritative level is a better reference option. They come across as a more reliable source. A friend can easily embellish and bend the truth; after all, a friend will want what is best for you. Your personal friend may also know not anything about how you are as an employee, or know anything about your work ethic.

For another employer/manager, it makes no difference in their life if you get a job or not, so they have nothing to gain from a positive or negative reference, so will be honest about you as an employee. Hiring managers would also prefer to hear how you performed in a professional setting, not in just a social one.

If you have had no employment, then the next best person is a teacher. A friend should always be a last alternative.

As a little bonus, we would like to share some true, but scary bad references we experienced as hiring managers employing various candidates for different jobs and industries.


Story 1. The personal friend reference:

As a hiring manager I was obligated to make a reference check on every single perspective candidate. One candidate included their friend as a reference. Upon calling said friend, I got an earful on this candidate’s negative character. The friend said how the candidate is a liar, unethical and was fired from every job.

I do not believe the candidate would have expected this from their dear friend. However, it just goes to show you that you cannot trust everyone, especially a friend. This is why it is so important you select your referees wisely.

Story 2 – The fired candidate.

A candidate left the number of their previous employer, but no direct manager to contact. I decided to call the organisation anyway to make sure that the candidate was indeed truthful about their employment with the organisation. The receptionist, who claimed to never have heard of this employer, checked the employee database and said she found the candidates profile and records. It said he was fired due to poor work ethic. The receptionist started laughing and said that she was surprised the candidate put down the company as a reference since he was fired.

Do not use an organisation that you were fired from, they will only tell the truth and let the perspective employer know. Naturally, the prospective employer will see this as a red flag. In this story, there was no manager to provide a different viewpoint, I had to go by the only information I was given, and that information was negative.

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Story 3. Not ending well.

This last story is from a reference check that started off well, but when the question of integrity came up, the referee’s tone changed. I was quickly informed of a sexual harassment case against them that was still ongoing.

If you had to leave due to questionable circumstances, then it would be best to avoid the employer all together, even if you had a positive relationship with your manager, because it is the employer’s duty to provide truthful reviews, regardless of how friendly you are with each other.

So the take away…

You should provide at least two (2) to three (3) references. A mix of people is the best option, from various organisations. If you do not have a manager to refer, then you should go down the ranks before you put a personal friend’s number in the job application form. A friend is an option, however, make sure then that this is a friend you trust and are willing to be upfront and honest with the hiring manager. Their honesty will come through and give a more sincere review on you.

Make sure that when you are selecting a referee, that you have ended your relationship with them on positive terms. Please also ensure that those who you are putting down as your references are made aware of this and are happy to do this for you. Make sure their contact information is up-to-date and provide both a phone number and email address.

If you are yet to find yourself in the final stages of your job interview, and feel perhaps you may be not effectively interviewing, then why don’t you download our free guide – Understanding Interview Questions. This guide covers the key areas of the various questions asked and the best ways to respond. Feel like you need something a little more? Then purchase our eBook, whilst the title is the same, the detail in which the eBook goes into is greater. With over 100 interview questions, the psychology behind them and the very comprehensive answers provided to you, you will be able to walk into any job interview and be the next candidate who gets a reference check.


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