Reference Checks


You’ve just aced your job interview at a reputable company and received an initial offer of employment on the spot. The official offer still awaits you, but it’s dependent on one condition – the quality of your reference checks. Perhaps you’ve made it through the entirety of your career without being requested for a letter of reference, and whether you’re a novice practitioner or a seasoned professional, you may be questioning – how can I ensure a good reference? 

Reference checks serve as a confirmation of your good character and strong work ethic. Employers will often ask for two or three references, and will either contact them by phone or request a reference letter. You’re in control of who you list as a referee, but here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Always make your referrer aware that you will be using them as a reference. This gives them a chance to prepare, should the employer call them unexpectedly. 
  • The more diverse your references, the better! Having references in different positions will speak to your influence on multiple levels of the employment ladder. Consider listing colleagues, supervisors, and management personnel, if possible.
  • Some employers may consider it a red flag if a candidate lacks references from one or more places of employment, as it could signal a poor working relationship. Avoid burning bridges with past employers, but also be prepared to provide an explanation in case a potential employer asks about the subject.  

For those who have been requested to provide a reference, there are also a few points to consider. Firstly, letters of reference are not to be confused with letters of employment. Employment letters are only intended to confirm a candidate’s employment status, their job title, dates, etc. In contrast, the purpose of a reference letter is to give the employer a glimpse into your working relationship:

  • When writing a reference letter, elaborate on strengths, competencies, and overall performance.
  • A standard letter is between half a page and one full page. You don't want to bore the reader, but writing only a few sentences might indicate that you don't have much to say! 
  • Reference checks are completely confidential. If you have significant concerns about the candidate that the employer should be aware of, it's your responsibility to make them known. Alternatively, you also have the option of politely declining to provide a reference.

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