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References / Referees
Disciplines > Job-finding > Resume / CV > References / Referees
Why they are sought | Types of reference | Who to ask | Some realities | See also
Many jobs ask for references or referees, being people you worked for or who know you and who will make some comment about you.
References vs. referees
The terms 'reference' and 'referee' are sometimes confused and may be used to indicate the same thing. They are, however, different.
A reference is a credible document, typically a letter, that describes a previous job that you did and may well indicate that you completed it to a satisfactory degree.
Paper references should always be credible themselves by being printed on company-headed notepaper.
If you have a previously-written reference, the recruiter may want to verify this with the person or company that wrote it.
A referee is a person who may well give a reference. As with a reference, the referee should be credible themselves, for example being in a senior position where they can pass judgement on how well you performed in a previous job. Good qualifications also help, especially if the job you are going for requires intelligence and qualifications.
What makes using referees different in the job-seeking context is that by giving the name of a referee, you are usually also giving permission for the recruiter to contact the referee and have a conversation of some kind, with interactive questions and answers. For the recruiter, this dynamic interaction may well give far richer information than may be found in your Resume.
Why they are sought
Job references or referees are asked for in many positions. The reasons they are asked for by employers include:
Also, they may well know that the very fact that they are asking for references or referees should increase the chance that you will tell the truth in your application.
Types of reference
There are a number of different types of reference or referee that may be sought (so ensure you get the right ones).
A job reference is typically given by any organization or manager you have worked for and confirms that you occupied a named job and that you completed work stated.
A personal referee is a person who knows you personally and will give a statement or talk with the recruiter about your character and personality. Typically they will vouch for your integrity, work ethic, intelligence and so on.
A professional referee is a person who will vouch for your professional skills and knowledge. They are typically a person who managed you in the past although they may also be someone from a professional body who is confirming that you have reached a certain professional status and certification.
An academic reference is one from a university or academic body and confirms that you have gained specific academic qualifications. It may also confirm further academic study and that you have had academic papers and other works published.
Who to ask
Of course you should always ask somebody who will give you a positive reference, although this can be difficult if you had problems with the natural person to ask. One of the most common reasons people leave jobs is because they do not like their managers, which can make finding a referee a problem.
Choose people who are well-qualified, well-spoken and who are as highly credible as possible.
Try to cover all recent jobs as recruiters may be suspicious of any gaps. Get contact information from the referee, preferably for their work address or work email as home details will again raise suspicions.
Many companies will only approach references if they are interested in you. Some will do so only after you have accepted a job offer.
Reference request earlier
Some organizations will ask for referees and references at the same time as you submit your Resume/CV. This can be difficult for you if you do not even get an interview as you still have to ask the referees to help, thereby using up social capital with them and opening you to later awkward conversations ('No, I didn't even get an interview').
There have been legal issues where job-hunters have sued companies who have issued unfavorable and possibly biased references that have negatively impacted their career.
As a result, many companies do not let managers give reference and all reference requests are handled by HR, who issue a very bland 'yes she worked here in this job' response.
When a recruiter talks on the phone to a former manager then nothing is recorded and there may be some frank conversation. You cannot control this and will likely never know what is said, even though it could be harmful to your career.
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