In the last couple of weeks quite a few students have asked me about referees. Were they important? Did you need to include them on your CV? Do employers really contact referees? How many referees do you need to give? And most importantly, who do you choose to be a referee?
In most cases, employers will contact referees before making an offer of employment. They will generally ask referees about your strengths, attitude, motivation, your capacity to learn, take direction and be innovative. They will want to know how well you can work with others and how much supervision you may require. They will especially want to hear their opinion about your suitability for the role you are applying for.
Employers are looking to find out as much about you as possible. Even if you are applying for a part-time role or short-term contract, good references are still very important. Never fake a reference! Assume that your referees will always be followed up. Always make sure that you get your referee’s permission before giving their details to a prospective employer. There is nothing worse than a referee getting caught off guard. Employers can tell pretty much immediately if a referee was not expecting their call. This fact alone, could swing the decision against hiring you.
If you have work experience, your first referee should typically be an employer. This holds true whether the experience is paid or voluntary. If you are applying for a job within the university, or for a research role where your academic background would be a key competency, than a lecturer or tutor who knows you well enough to comment on both your academic results and your personal contribution to the class, would be a good choice. Generally, two referees are all that would be required, but if you are asked for a third, than another employer or university staff member could be used, or else someone, for example a mentor, who could give you a good character reference and could comment on your values and motivation.
When listing your referees, always include the title of their current role and their relationship to you – former lecturer, tutor, manager etc. Include as many contact details as possible: email address, landline and/or mobile numbers. The important thing to remember is that the referee should know you well enough to be able to comment positively about you. The more a referee is able to talk about your skills and abilities, the greater your chances are of being offered the job. It is a good idea to give your referees a copy of your CV and information about the type of work you are applying for. If a role description is available, then give them a copy of that as well. If you haven’t seen your referee for quite some time, make sure you let them know what you have been doing.
Last but not least, always keep your referees informed on your progress and remember to thank them for their help when you get a job.