A guide to collecting good job references

By Hannah Kingston

Friday October 2, 2020


Collecting good job references can feel like an arduous task. There are a lot of questions we may have when it comes to trying to build up a bank of references, like “How do I ask?”, “When is it appropriate to follow up?” and “Will they be reliable when the time comes and I need them to provide that glowing reference?”

There’s no real right or wrong way to go about it, but it can feel daunting, no matter where you are in your career. A good reference, after all, could be the difference between getting that job and getting cut from the shortlist.

Here is your guide to collecting good job references:

Timing is everything

Timing is everything in two ways.

Firstly, you should always ask for a reference while you are still in close contact with the person you need it from. If you decide to contact someone six months down the line, it may be near impossible to get that reference from them unless you are communicating outside of work.

Start planning to build or add to your reference bank three weeks ahead of your contract ending, that way it makes it much easier to A) Get the reference in a timely manner and B) Follow up if you need to.

Secondly, you should pick the right time to ask someone for a reference. Read the room and make sure the person you are asking is in a relatively good mood. If you ask when they are busy or a project has just failed, it will make it much harder to get that glowing reference that you are looking for.

Ask people you can rely on

Written reference letters aren’t always taken at face value, oftentimes, hiring managers will call your references to get the details they need, so you need to only include people you can rely on, people who will take that call or respond to that email promptly.

Needless to say, you need to choose people who you had a good working relationship with. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone would give you a scathing review if they have agreed to act as a reference but do you really want to take that chance?

Ask someone who you have a positive professional bond with and you are giving yourself the best chance of getting a good job reference from them.

Set yourself up for success

The best way to set yourself up for success is, well, to do a good job. Additionally, when you ask for the job reference, it might be a good idea to highlight times in which you have done that good job.

Oftentimes, employers will ask if there is anything, in particular, you want them to say, have this prepared! Provide 2-3 projects or examples, and then ask if they could include the skills you showcased that most relate to the roles you will be pursuing down the line.

If the person providing the reference needs more details, send through a summary of what you did and achieved, this could be an updated CV or cover letter. This will help them to give you what you need without having to put too much time in.

Accept that there could be challenges

Unfortunately, some organisations have policies in place that disallow references being given, or others will have strict information-giving guidelines in place so they can provide little detail. Often this will be outlined at some point during your tenure.

There are of course ways to get around this. You could ask your manager to endorse your skills on LinkedIn or plead with direct management to allow for a call if it would be the difference between you getting the job and not, sometimes there is wiggle room on these rules.

Have your references list ready and make sure they know a call is coming

Once you have gotten a few job references, make sure that you have that list ready to hand over. Don’t attach it to your CV while job-hunting as this only takes up space, and most of the time hiring managers will not seek out references until the later stages of the process.

If you have been told that your references will be receiving a call, make sure to inform them and express gratitude for them doing this for you. This little bit of management can help streamline the process and make sure that the verdict is reached sooner rather than later.

Have recommendation letters on file, or display quotes on your online portfolio

You should keep recommendation letters on file as a just-in-case but often employers will not request to see them. They will, however, come in handy if you start an online portfolio and would like to use quotes from previous employers, you would like them to endorse you on LinkedIn down the line, or you simply want something to read back on for a confidence boost.

The guide to getting good job references may be simple but it can be the difference between sending your third follow up email and getting that support locked in.

Keep reading: 10 signs it’s time for a career change 

Keep reading: How to write a cover letter and stand out from the crowd 

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