References in your job applications

Don’t underestimate the importance of references in your job applications. In order to be successful in your graduate job search, you need to present yourself as the strongest applicant available.

To do this you’ll need a fantastic CV, a cover letter that grabs attention and finally, good references that will back up all the skills and achievements you say you have.

Providing references is beneficial to both yourself and your potential future employer.

Your references should enable you to make a stronger impression and give the hiring manager confidence that you’re the right person for the job.


How references work

References are usually used at the later stages of the recruitment process. Once you’ve been thoroughly assessed and have attended an interview, the hiring manager will then request details of your referees.

Professional references should act as proof of your skills and the capabilities you have already listed on your CV and discussed at interview.

They can often be a key factor in the hiring manager’s decision of whether to hire you or not.

Professional reference checks will tell your potential employer more about your:

  • Previous experience and role responsibilities
  • Work ethic and attitude
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Accomplishments at work
  • Reasons for leaving previous positions

It also gives the employer the opportunity to confirm important information that you have already disclosed on your CV including dates of employment, job titles and previous salaries.


Should you include references on your CV?

In short, the answer is no. You don’t have to include references on your CV, especially if you are short for space and trying to keep it down to two pages.

Instead, simply write ‘references available upon request’ at the bottom of your CV. For more CV writing tips:

8 skills you should include in your graduate CV

How to write a CV that works

Sometimes, a company will ask for you to include references in your job applications.


How to choose your references

If you’re a recent graduate without a whole lot of work experience, finding references may be a challenge.

Ideally, you should use a manager that you have worked with through part-time work, voluntary work, or placements/internships.

This should be someone who can positively confirm your competencies and work ethic. If you have little work experience, reach out to your personal tutor at your university.

If you have a referee in mind, ask yourself: can this person confirm key skills that are required for the job you are applying for?

It should be a manager that you built a good rapport with and that has seen you demonstrate key skills employers look for, including:

  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Teamwork
  • Commercial awareness
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Positivity


What to do before you submit your reference list

Most employer will only request 2-3 references.

1. Ask their permission

Once you have them in mind, be sure to ask for their permission before putting them forward as a referee. This is polite, and they won’t be confused if they suddenly get a reference form sent to them.

When you ask their permission, you should also use this as an opportunity to check that you have the correct contact details for them.

At the very least, you should have their phone number and email address.

If you know that an employer will be getting in touch with your referees, let them know in advance.


2. Tell them about the role

It may also be helpful for you to inform them about the type of role you are going for.

If they receive a phone call, then they will be better prepared to speak about you as they will have had some time to think things through.



When you’re looking for a graduate job, having some good references in your job applications who can talk about you positively can be a big help.

What others say about you speaks volumes and will hopefully set you apart from other applicants.

Give your reference list some thought and notify your referees because they could be the difference between a job offer and a rejection email.


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