Reference tips for candidates

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Jordie Black
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As a candidate, the reference check can seem like a secretive process where your prospective employer speaks about you to your past employer. It can be confusing to know who to give as a reference, how to ask for a reference and whether you can view your reference. This section answers these questions and more.

Who should I give as my references?

Anyone who can vouch for your professional capability can provide a reference. The best person to provide a reference is someone who has managed or worked closely with you. Friends and family are rarely considered to be appropriate referees. Your future employer will want to verify your work experience and capabilities. While friends and family may be happy to talk positively about you, they may not be able to give the professional insights necessary to inform your interview process.

What if I don’t have any professional references? (no experience)

If you have no work experience, for example, if you have just left school or university, you may not have a past employer to ask to give you a reference. If this is the case for you, you should ask your prospective employer what kind of reference they will accept. Here are a few suggestions for some suitable non-professional referees.

  • If you have recently finished your education, consider asking a teacher or lecturer with whom you have a good relationship. A particularly useful referee would be someone who taught or supervised you on an important project, paper or dissertation.
  • If you have been part of any youth groups, you could ask a youth leader to give you a reference.
  • If you have volunteered for any local groups, charities or projects, ask a supervisor or team leader from one of these projects to give you a reference.
  • Alternatively, if you know someone of good standing in the community, for example, a local councillor, you could ask them to give you a reference.

How do I ask for a reference?

Once you have identified a few people who may be willing to give you a reference, you should ask them if they will be happy to be contacted by your prospective employer. Getting their consent is essential, so you should do this in writing via email. You can also take this opportunity to remind them about relevant skills you demonstrated or projects you worked on while working with them. If they agree, remember to thank them for giving their time to help you.

Why do recruiters ask for 2-5 references?

Recruiters usually ask for more than one reference as a safeguard when verifying the information a candidate has given them. Taking on a new staff member always carries a certain amount of risk, so if more than one external person confirms the information the candidate has given them, they can be more confident in their hiring decisions. They also may be asking for compliance reasons as some industries, such as finance, require reference checks spanning a certain number of years.

Will my new employer accept a written reference?

Reference letters are not the same as a future employer or 3rd party provider directly contacting your referees. Your recruiter or hiring manager may wish to ask questions specific to the role you are interviewing for, so you may need more than a reference letter to secure the position. If you have a reference letter—either a physical letter or a Word/PDF document—there is no harm in asking if your future employer will accept it. Don’t be disheartened if they decline; it simply means they have the referencing practices they wish to follow.

Additionally, a reference letter may be harder to validate than a verified email chain from the referee’s company email address or a digitally verified reference so you may consider one of these methods instead of a letter.

Can I view my references?

Your references are classed as your data. Since 2018, in the UK and EU, GDPR states that you have a right to access your data held by companies for free. If you want to see your reference, you have the right to ask the relevant department in the company to provide you with the reference or any notes made from a telephone call.

In other areas, you can ask to see your references, but the company may not be legally obliged to show you your reference.

Some digital tools allow job applicants to collect, view and reuse their references. For example, users can collect verified references and share them with prospective employers.

Are references for work confidential?

When references are collected as part of the hiring process, your recruiter or hiring manager may need to share your references with someone else in the company. Often many people are involved in the hiring decision so that they will share information about all candidates with the relevant people within their company.

What can I do if my previous employer gives a bad reference?

References must be fair, accurate and not misleading. You can ask to view the reference if your referee has said something false or discriminatory. If you believe that this has cost you the job, you should ask them why they put what they did and not do this in the future. If their reference is deliberately false or misleading, you can challenge them.

If you cannot agree with your referee to write a more fair and accurate reference, consider asking someone else to give you consideration. It may help you decide who to ask.

What does it mean when HR calls after a reference check?

There are a few scenarios that could be happening here. The best scenario is that HR has satisfactorily checked your references and would like to make you an offer. Another scenario could be that they have yet to be able to contact your referees and want to ask you for alternative people they can contact to verify your history. There is also the possibility that they have been able to contact your referees and they weren’t satisfactory. It could be that something came up in the reference check that they want to discuss with you, or they have decided not to make you an offer.

Why do many companies have a policy against giving references?

Some companies usually refuse to give a reference to avoid liability. In some industries, such as the financial industry, this is not allowed, and you can challenge an employer who refuses to give consideration. Suppose your previous company has declined to consider you and is not in an industry where providing a connection is mandatory. In that case, you may have tconsiderut other people who can consider you. The section “Who can provide references?” can help you decide who it would be appropriate to ask.

Can I get away with giving fake references?

Giving a fake reference is dishonest and can get you in trouble further down the line. If you are hired after providing a fake concern, and your company finds out, it can be grounds for dismissal.

While it is true that many people have got away with giving fake references, these days are numbered. Hiring managers are turning to 3rd party companies using new technologies to verify their concerns. If you feel you need to fake a connection for a particular job, it might be worth considering if the role suits you in the first place.  

*Legal Disclaimer:

This guide is for general information only. Whilst we endeavour to ensure that the information on this site is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy, and we do not accept any liability for error or omission. This guide does not constitute legal advice, and neither Zinc nor its employees can be held liable for any damages resulting from the use of or inability to use the information. Additionally, Zinc cannot be held responsible for any action or decision made due to using this guide.

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