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Top tips for choosing referees

|  —  16/06/16

This week I’ve answered a few questions for clients regarding referees for job applications. Here’s the advice I gave:

Q: Do I need to include referees in my resume or should I write that they’re ‘available on request’?

A: Always include referees with your resume (name, position, company, contact number).

Q: I want to include six referees because then it will look like lots of people are prepared to say good things about me. More is better right?

A: No. Six referees is excessive. You only want to include two or three maximum (or the number the job application specifies). This is standard for all jobs, even senior management positions. A prospective employer will not phone six referees. You need to pick the two or three people who can best speak positively about you in regard to the role you’re applying for. Be selective.

Q: Do I need to let my referees know when I include them in a resume or go for a job?

A: YES! Always check with the person before you include them as a referee in your job application. Never assume they’ll be happy to speak on your behalf. Once you have their consent to be a referee, let them know when you have applied for a job and what that job is. It’s the polite thing to do and will ensure they’re prepared and more likely to speak comprehensively and favourably on your behalf.

Q: If someone agrees to be my referee, will they only say positive things about me?

A: Not necessarily. Remember, their credibility is at stake, so they are likely to be honest. Choose your referees wisely.

Q: I’m going to put my best friend/relative/boss from 20 years ago as my referee because I know they’ll rave about me. Good idea?

A: Your referee should be someone who can speak about your ability to do the job you’re applying for, or your skills in that area (if possible); preferably your current boss and previous boss, or someone from your current and previous organisations (supervisors or superiors if possible, otherwise colleagues). There is little point having someone as a referee who knows you’re a great person, but has no idea of your work ethic, skills and experience in relation to the job you’re applying for. Similarly, someone you worked for 20 years ago is not going to be able to speak about your current skills, experience and work ethic.

NB: If you’re a student applying for your first job, a teacher can be a good referee.


In summary, pick two or three referees, pick wisely, check they’re happy to be your referee, include their details in your resume, and notify them when you have applied for a job.

Happy job hunting!


Leah Mether is a communication and soft skills trainer obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier.

With more than 15 years’ experience working with thousands of clients, and an acclaimed book to her name, Leah knows what it takes to communicate under pressure. Like you, she knows the challenge of conflict, personality clashes, and difficult conversations.

Leah is renowned for her practical, engaging, straight-shooting style. Utilising her Five Cs® model of communication, she helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness.

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