Job Hunting

Selecting Your References: A Comprehensive Guide for Job Seekers

July 31, 2023

Table of Contents

Ever felt stumped deciding who to list as your referees in a job application?  Navigating the job market can be tricky, and the right referees can make all the difference.

In this post, we'll help you understand how to choose the right references, and provide you with a thorough understanding of who your referees can be and what role they play. So, buckle up as we demystify this important step in your job-seeking journey.

What Do Referees Do?

Imagine your referees as your personal cheerleaders in the professional arena. They vouch for your skills, qualifications, and work ethic when potential employers come calling. Acting as your professional advocates, referees paint an objective (and hopefully glowing) picture of you to your potential employers.

They'll be asked about your strengths, performance, conduct, and dependability, so it's important to choose people who can rave about you with genuine enthusiasm. Let's be honest, there's a lot riding on your referee's impression of you, so let's get this choice right, shall we?

Who Can Be Your Referee?

Think of people who know you well in a professional context. These could include:

  • Former or Current Managers: The folks who've overseen your work firsthand. They can provide real-world insight into your performance, professionalism, and abilities.
  • Colleagues: Those who've been in the trenches with you, working on projects or assignments. They can speak about your role, responsibilities, and teamwork.
  • Academic Advisors or Tutors: Particularly useful for fresh graduates, they can speak to your academic abilities and any relevant projects or research.

How to Choose Your Referees?

So, now we've established who can be your referee, let's move on to the tricky bit—how to choose them?

  1. Relevance is Key: Select referees who can speak about your skills and experience relevant to the job you're applying for. Have they seen you in action in a similar role or industry? Brilliant!
  2. Positive Rapport: Opt for those you've had good relations with—after all, they'll sound much more enthusiastic when singing your praises.
  3. Always Ask Permission: Never list someone as a referee without their knowledge. Always ask first—it's only polite. Plus, it gives them time to prepare for any potential calls.
  4. Keep Them Informed: Update your referees about your job search. If you're shortlisted, give them a heads up so they can expect a call.
  5. Show Gratitude: Don't forget to thank your referees. They're helping you out, so a little thanks can go a long way!

How Many Referees Do I Need?

Typically, potential employers ask for two or three references. However, this can vary depending on the job role and the employer's preferences.

Ideally, you should have at least three referees in your arsenal. Why? Well, it gives you a chance to choose the most relevant referee according to the job role. Plus, it's always a good idea to have a backup, just in case one of your referees is unavailable.

Remember, it's quality over quantity. Two strong, relevant referees are better than four with less pertinent experience or a weaker relationship with you. So don't fret about the numbers, focus on who will truly be a stellar advocate for you!

The Power of Testimonials

Ever wondered why testimonials are so common on websites, brochures, and even resumes? It's simple. They hold immense power! A strong, positive testimonial can be a game-changer in your job search.

Testimonials, especially from respected referees, serve as third-party endorsements of your skills, abilities, and character. They provide credibility and can make you stand out in the crowded job market. They're the real-world proof of your skills, sort of like a '5-star review' in the professional world!

Imagine this - two candidates with similar qualifications are competing for a job. Candidate A has a strong resume, but Candidate B has a similar CV and glowing testimonials. Who do you think has the edge?

Moreover, testimonials can provide a snapshot of your personality and work ethic in ways that a CV can't. They can highlight your teamwork, leadership, or problem-solving abilities from a real-world perspective.

So, how to get these golden nuggets? Simple! Ask your referees if they'd be comfortable writing a brief testimonial for you. You can include these on your LinkedIn profile, your personal website, or even in your job applications where appropriate.

Reference Myths: Debunked

In the world of job hunting, there are several myths about references that can leave us scratching our heads. Let's dive in and debunk some of these common misconceptions:

  1. Myth: You must include references on your CV. Truth: This is not necessary, and it can actually take up valuable space on your CV. Typically, employers will ask for references at a later stage in the hiring process.
  2. Myth: The more references, the better. Truth: Quality trumps quantity. It's more beneficial to have two strong, relevant references than a list of people who can't effectively vouch for your skills and character.
  3. Myth: References are only contacted if you're the final candidate. Truth: This varies from employer to employer. Some may contact references before the final stage to help make their decision, so always ensure your references are prepared.
  4. Myth: Only previous employers can be references. Truth: While past employers can provide valuable insight, references can also be anyone who knows your work style and ethic. This includes colleagues, tutors, or mentors.
  5. Myth: You should use the same references for every job. Truth: You should tailor your references for each job application, if possible. Different referees may be able to speak more accurately to different job requirements.


For more tips and tricks on acing your job search in the further education and skills sector, check out these resources:

Remember, choosing your referees is a crucial step in your job search. Take your time, choose wisely, and set yourself up for success. Happy job hunting!

Wrapping Things Up

Navigating the world of job hunting is no small feat, and choosing the right referees is a crucial part of that journey. We've covered everything from understanding the role of a referee, selecting the right referees and the optimal number of referees to have, and even debunking common myths around references.

Always remember, your referees are more than just names on a piece of paper. They are your advocates, your champions, your validation in the professional world. Their testimonials can be the edge that sets you apart in the competitive job market. So choose wisely, communicate openly, and show gratitude for their support.

Ready to put all this into action? Start your job search now with Bolt Jobs.

Alex Lockey
Director | Bolt Jobs
Founder Alex Lockey is an expert in further education, learning, and skills sector. He leads cost-effective hiring solutions and is known for successful talent placements. Dynamic and driven, Alex seeks innovative solutions to solve sector hiring challenges.