Asking for a Reference

As the graduate recruitment program gets underway, many students will be gathering references to enclose with their résumé. Here are some tips on what makes a good reference.

Most importantly, referees need to have a good knowledge of your skills, abilities and personality. They also need to know what position(s) you have applied for and what competencies and experience are required for the job. This will ensure that your referees offer information about you that is relevant to the job. Referees for graduates most often include lecturers and tutors and past employers (from paid and/or unpaid work experience). People you know through sporting or other community activities could also be potential referees. Someone well known in the industry you are applying to could also attest to your suitability to that particular work environment. Never, ever use someone’s name as a referee without getting their permission first!

Often, you’ll just need to provide a reference list during the initial application, which a potential employer can use to follow up on if they need more information. This list contains names, positions and contact details of your referees.

You need at least two strong referees for both a reference list and reference letters; it’s good to have one or two other additional referees, which employers could contact if required. When asking for a reference, make it clear what kind of reference you’d like (written, verbal or both). Bear in mind that most potential employers will want to back up a written reference with a telephone call to that referee.

Reference letters must be dated and should be typed on company letterhead so that employers are assured that the letter is legitimate and reliable. They should state how long you have been known to the referee. Contact details and (if necessary) specific times when your referees are available should be clearly indicated in your application. Wherever possible, supply an email address.

Don’t be surprised if your referee asks you to write your own reference letter for them to review and sign – while it may seem like they are simply too busy or are avoiding the task, it’s also a reflection of their trust that you will represent yourself in an appropriate manner that also reflects their own views of you!

The above criteria also apply to references being submitted for scholarship applications, graduate school entry and internships. Make sure that your referee is clear about what you are applying for.

Last but not least, let your referees know of the outcome of your efforts – and theirs – and share your success when it happens. A ‘thank you’ letter is an excellent way to do this!

(Adapted from an article by the Careers Advisory Service at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. While it was originally developed for a New Zealand audience, we believe that graduates in Australia will also find the information relevant and useful.)

Further Resources

Victoria University of Wellington