How to choose good referees when job hunting

Work experience supervisors make good referees

Advice on choosing the right referee to help you get that job.

Choosing a referee who’ll make you sound wonderful seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, not all job hunters check what their referees will say about them.

We’ve spoken to referees who’ve had bad things to say about the candidate’s reliability, their interactions with others or their amount of sick leave. You’d think the candidate would check what they might say first.

HR manager, Wellington

Ensure you pick the right referee by following these tips.

Choose appropriate referees

Infographic showing the three referee options. Best options: Your manager, team leader, supervisor or CEO. Good options: A project manager, a client who you reported to. Limited options: Coach, community leader, clients, course tutor.

Good referee options

Job hunters usually need two to four referees who are easy for potential employers to get hold of by phone.

The best referees are people who have supervised or managed you in a normal work or work experience situation. They need to be someone who knows about the quality of your work and your work ethic.

If you only have one referee like this, other options for referees could be:

  • co-workers who may have peer reviewed your work
  • work experience supervisors or mentors
  • teachers, tutors, trainers or lecturers
  • sports coaches
  • volunteer work organisers
  • people you’ve worked closely with from other agencies
  • former clients
  • community leaders or religious leaders.

Family members and friends are usually not considered good referees because they may be too positive and not give an proper summary of your skills.

Prepare your referees

Before you send out your applications, check in with your referees to let them know you’re job hunting. Confirm their contact details and, if you can, meet them for coffee to talk through the jobs you’re applying for and what your referee might say to support you.

Employers are always keen to know how you will fit into their workplace, so they don’t only want to hear about your work experience. Therefore, ask your referee to talk about their impressions of your:

  • teamwork
  • work quality
  • reliability
  • stress management
  • organising, time management and problem-solving skills.

If your referees can get a sense of your enthusiasm for the role you’re applying for, they will pass this on to the prospective employer.

Get good LinkedIn recommendations

Managers, customers, clients, professional connections and colleagues can all boost your chances of finding work through the job hunting network LinkedIn by writing recommendations for your profile.

To get recommendations employers will take notice of, ask your referees to comment on the specific skills you wish to promote. For example, you might want them to talk about a particular time you used your problem-solving skills, how well it went, and the impact using these skills had on the organisation you worked for.

If you think your referee might accept it, offer to send them a draft recommendation about you that they could add to or edit. The recommendation should include positive language about yourself and your personal qualities.

Updated 15 Nov 2018