Job references explained

References might not be the most important part of a job application, but they could make all the difference. Use this guide to get yours right...

What are references?
When you apply for a job, you'll normally be asked to provide details of two people who can confirm that you would be a good employee. At least one of these will normally be a previous employer. Most of the time, the employer will only contact your references once they have decided they want to hire you, and will ask you before they do it.
How do I get one?
You won’t normally get a reference directly. Instead, you’ll give your references’ contact details to your potential employer when applying for a job, and they will get in touch (normally as the last step before offering you a job). However, you should always ask before putting someone down as a reference, and let the people you put down know about any jobs you are applying for so the call doesn’t take them by surprise.
What if I’m applying for my first job?
If you’re applying for your first job, you might find it harder to get suitable references. It’s fine to use references from a part-time job if you need to. Teachers and university tutors are also a common source of references. If you’ve done any voluntary work, you could ask someone you worked with.
Does my employer have to give me a reference?
Most of the time, your employer doesn’t have to give you a reference if they don’t want to. The exceptions are:
  • If it’s in your contract that your employer will provide a reference
  • If your job is in a regulated sector, and the regulator says employers have to provide references
What if I get a bad reference?
A bad reference could cost you a job, but it has to be fair and accurate. If you get an inaccurate reference from a former employer that costs you a job, you can take them to court for damages. If this happens to you, you should talk to an independent advisor such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

However, your referee doesn’t have to provide a reference at all, or could just confirm the details of your employment without offering any information on how good a worker you were, which could put employers off. Some employers do this to avoid the possibility of being sued, and there’s nothing you can do about it. To avoid this, always check that the person is willing to be used as a reference first.
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